Writing Guide

Theology students should understand the intense writing requirements their studies necessitate. To articulate theology's concepts and history, students need strong writing skills. The workload often includes long-form essays, papers, and presentations. This research-heavy major requires students to write a variety of papers and essays with clear, data-supported arguments. Communications comprises a significant portion of the program, requiring students to complete six to nine credits. Students must write critical or persuasive papers on topics such as Byzantium art and religion and Sanskrit. Some theology programs also make students write 20- to 25-page capstone papers. Honor students often write 30- to 35-page thesis papers.

Most theology careers require daily writing.

Writing requirements continue beyond graduation, especially for students pursuing higher degrees or careers as professors, rabbis, executive directors, pastors, or lecturers. Most theology careers require daily writing. In the workforce, graduates often use a theology writing style to compose sermons and newsletters.

Types of Writing Christian Students Will Do in School

Personal Statements

Students must fortify their writing skills even before classes begin. Most theology programs ask students for personal statements as part of their college application. Requirements for personal statements vary by college. In general, a personal statement either asks students to provide broad biographical information or answer specific questions about their theology interest. Common prompts include: Why do you want to attend this school or program? How has your ministry work prepared you for success? You may also be asked to write about your personal, religious, and professional goals.

To write a standout personal statement, consider what makes you unique. Is there a particular story about what influenced your life or lead you to this field of study? Think from the perspective of the admissions office. Avoid boring or controversial statements, clichés, and irrelevant life details. Instead, mention your post-college aspirations and any theology experience. Personal statements are sometimes optional, in which case students will stand out if they submit one. Above all, remember to captivate with the first sentence.


Students also must flex their writing muscles on exams, which sometimes include long-form essays. Unlike a research paper or essay, professors will likely not give students prompts beforehand. Students can prepare by studying course material and creating concept maps to tie themes together. Try to anticipate questions your professor may ask. Also consider forming a study group to brainstorm with classmates. With your practice prompts, try writing a practice essay before the exam.

During the exam, start by reading the instructions carefully. Before you write, create an outline using three main points you will expand upon. With your completed outline,write a thesis. This provides your essay's angle and will guide your subpoints, the body, and the conclusion. Save time to proofread your work and review the prompt to ensure you answered it correctly.

Research Papers

Theology essay writing typically includes the author's opinions and personal examples. A research paper is written in an objective voice devoid of the student's opinions.

In theology, students generally write historical, hermeneutical/exegetical, or doctrinal/theological research papers. The research paper features different sections, including the thesis and motive, which explains why this topic is important to the reader. The next section is the body, which includes research-backed evidence. The conclusion ties back to your thesis.

To ace a paper, students should always follow their professor's instructions. Note the required page count, formatting instructions, and deadline. Cite your sources and include a work-cited page if required. You can also use tutoring centers, which are usually free for students.

How to Write a Theology Essay

The best way to prep for college-level writing assignments is to familiarize yourself with different essay types. Each one requires a different writing technique. Here are the most popular essays you will be asked to write:

Citations Guide for Students

Citations are important for many reasons. Colleges are strict on students who plagiarize (even unintentionally) with consequences that include a failed essay, suspension, or expulsion. Plagiarism can permanently tarnish your academic record. When in doubt, always use quotes and attribute any facts, figures, or ideas. Aside from plagiarism, citing sources is important to demonstrate that you have done your research. Citations vary depending on style.

American Psychological Association (APA) Style

The American Psychological Association (APA) is a style guide used in social and behavioral sciences. APA is a guide to punctuation and editorial style that was first developed in 1929 by business managers, anthropologists, and psychologists. Citation rules differ based on where you obtained the source. Citations for websites, books, and magazines differ slightly. Generally, an in-text citation for a book is listed with the author's last name and the publication year. The references page at the end of your essay, or your footnotes, includes the entire citation.

In Text (Petersen, 2018)
Direct Quotes (Petersen, 2018, p. 12)
Example Theology students are struggling in this economic climate to pay for books, housing, and tuition (Petersen and Stevenson, 2018).
On the reference page Peterson, J. (2018). An Exploration of Theology Studies. New York, NY: College Publishing House.

Chicago Manual of Style (CMS)

Chicago Manual of Style, often simply called Chicago style or CMOS, is a guide which was created by the University of Chicago Press in 1906. Chicago style is used in academics, business, fine arts, and history. CMOS features two citation referencing methods. One follows the author-date format for in-text citations. In that case, write "(Hall 2017, 99-100)" in the essay text. And then in the bibliography, write:

Hall, Christopher A. 2017. Living Wisely with the Church Fathers. Illinois: InterVarsity Press. The History of Theology. New York: Random House. The other style calls for notes and a bibliography.
In Text The composer Bach's notes show that he lived a life devoted to being a conservative Lutheran.¹
Footnote (at the bottom of the page) 1. Marissen, Michael. "Bach Was Far More Religious Than You Might Think." March 30, 2018. Accessed July 1, 2018.

Modern Language Association (MLA) Format

Modern Language Association, or MLA, is a grammar and style guide created by teachers and academics in 1883. MLA is the most commonly used style in academia. Students and scholars in the English and humanities departments use this style. MLA requires students to use parenthetical citations that follow the author-page format. The in-text citations correspond to the sources listed in the works-cited section, which is a separate page at the end of the paper.

In Text Ralph Ellison wrote in "Invisible Man," that "Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat" (212).

Another option if you do not mention the author's name before the parenthesis: in life you can win humanity, "by continuing to play in the face of certain defeat" (Ellison 212).
Works Cited Ellison, Ralph, Invisible Man, Random House, 1952.

Associated Press (AP) Style

Associated Press Style, also called AP, is a guide used in journalism and public relations. Many publications including The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times have also developed their own style guides, which closely resemble AP style. The style guide was developed by the Associated Press journalists in 1953. AP style emphasizes accuracy, brevity, neutrality, and clarity. Dates and cities are abbreviated. The AP rule for citations mirrors what you see in a newspaper with quotes followed by the source's name and title.

In Text "Pope Francis and his diplomats have been quietly pouring energy into negotiations with the Chinese government that could help end a decades-long dispute over control of the Catholic Church in the country," wrote Jason Horowitz and Elisabetta Povoledo in the Feb. 9, 2018 article published in The New York Times.

Which Writing Style Should Theology Students Use?

Theology students are often required to write research papers and essays in MLA style. Some theology programs prefer Chicago style. A theology professor will most likely request MLA style because the in-text citations and works-cited page are preferred rather than other style guides which use notes. MLA is preferred because it is widely used in college, and the citations can be easily understood by fellow students.

Common Writing Mistakes Students Make

Active vs. Passive Voice

Many professors warn students not to write in the passive voice, which weakens the writing. Passive voice occurs in sentences where the object of an action becomes the subject. For example: "the ball was hit by the boy" is a sentence written in the passive voice. The boy is doing the action, not the ball. It becomes active if you change sentence to read: "the boy hit the ball." Another way to spot passive voice is to find the "to be" form (was, is, were, have been) followed by a past participle or verb ending in "ed." Here is an example: the ball has been popped by the boy.

Passive voice muddles a sentence's meaning. To avoid it, always consider who is doing the action. Is the person or thing doing the action at the beginning of the sentence? Are you missing the subject?


Using punctuation incorrectly can turn off your readers and convolute your writing. Have you ever wondered if you are using the semicolon or colon correctly? And what are comma splices? Comma splices occur when you connect two independent clauses with a comma rather than a conjunction. What are conjunctions? Think of the "FANBOYS" method to remember these conjunctions: for, and, not, but, or, yet, so.

A semicolon connects two independent clauses, or a complete sentence that can stand on its own. A semicolon works differently from its grammar cousin, the colon. The colon is often used to introduce a list. For example, we reviewed many grammar lessons here: semicolons, comma splices, and colons.


A great research paper and essay can easily be mucked up with a few easily fixable grammar errors. At the top of the grammar error list is the usage of there, their, and they're. Many people mistake these words because they are homophones, or words that sound the same but have different meanings. "There" refers to a place. For example: "I live over there." Their is the possessive of they. Think: "The tow truck is towing their car." The word they're is a contraction of they are. An example is: "They're walking to the park."

Writing Resources for Students

Grammar rules can be tricky, so take advantage of on-campus writing resources if you need help. Learn about free tutoring centers and consult your teacher's aides. In addition to on-campus aid, free online resources can help students bolster their writing skills. Here are a few:

  • Grammarly Use this free site to spot your spelling, typographical, and grammatical errors. Just add Grammarly to your web browser or upload a document to Grammarly's Editor.
  • Grammar Monster This free grammar website offers grammar lessons on how to use "affect" and"effect." It also offers quizzes and a photo gallery featuring "bad grammar tattoos."
  • Purdue Online Writing Lab Purdue's OWL is a comprehensive writing resource that helps students with grammar and the writing process, including how to write undergraduate and graduate applications, personal correspondence, and community-engaged writing.
  • Grammar Girl This resource, created by journalism professor Mignon Fogarty, offers "Quick and Dirty Tips" such as how to use "who" versus "whom" via a website, YouTube channel, and podcast.
  • Oxford Dictionaries More than a dictionary, this free online resource offers writing tips on how to compose work-related letters.