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Writing a Research Paper with OBSO—A Thematic Guide

David Mindel, M.L.S.

I have no idea what I want to research. How do I choose a topic?

Oxford Biblical Studies Online (OBSO) provides users with the capability of browsing their collection by topic. This is a good place to start searching for a topic of interest. When you click on the Browse link, the default Browse All will appear. You can begin to narrow the topics you are interested in by using the left navigation sidebar, which has alphabetically arranged topics, ranging from Archaeology to Science and Medicine. Each navigation topic category is expandable by clicking on the bullet to the left of each category. For example, you can expand the “People and Society” category to find results that might be of interest to you. If you want more specific topics, you can narrow the results by clicking on one of the subcategories like “Family and Kinship” or “Individuals.” Browsing through Oxford’s content is a good way to figure out what might be an interesting paper topic.

How do I find specific Bible verses for my paper?

The first and quickest way to find a specific Bible verse is to use the Bible Verse Lookup in the upper right-hand corner. This lets you go directly to a verse if you already know which verse you need.

If you’re not sure which Bible translation or verse you need, the Bible Texts link leads you to a thorough explanation of the Bibles and Bible Texts available. The versions of the Bibles on the site are listed on the left navigation sidebar, and you can select the Bible you’d like to use. It will lead you to Genesis 1:1, and you can navigate through the books by using the left-hand navigation bar. You can also examine commentaries for verses and compare different translations of the Bible simultaneously by using the side-by-side option that is available when you are “inside” a Bible.

If you’d like to search for Bible verses rather than browsing or jumping directly to a certain verse, there is an Advanced Bible Search. The Advanced Bible Search section of the Search tab allows a Keyword or Full Text search through OBSO’s database. This search doesn’t allow for topic specificity, but it does provide greater source specificity in terms of selecting which Biblical text to search. It allows you to search just the verses or commentaries for a specific Bible or to search a specific section of the Bible like the Gospels or the Torah.

How do I incorporate primary sources and secondary sources into my paper?

Often professors require you to use both primary and secondary sources when writing a research paper. A primary source is an original or historical document like a court case or a letter. In biblical studies, a professor will most likely want you to work with Bible verses as your primary document. Secondary sources help explain primary documents. They can be contemporary theoretical articles, the commentary that accompanies Bible verses, or other reference sources. OBSO groups search results for secondary sources under the Reference tab. The Bible Text search results tab groups both Bible verses (the primary sources) and Bible commentary (the secondary sources) results.

Choosing the appropriate search term can help you when searching for either primary or secondary sources. Modern terms, like feminism, do not appear in the main text of the Bible so they wouldn’t be a good search term to find Bible verses that relate to feminism, but feminism would be a good search term to find secondary sources that look at the roles of women in the Bible. Secondary sources can point you to specific biblical verses, poems, narratives, and passages that they, themselves, are examining. Additionally, secondary sources are important because you can use the bibliographic information contained in some of them to find other related works.

While I was reading a Bible section, I came across the term tabernacle, with which I am unfamiliar. What’s the best way to find out what this means?

All you need to do is highlight the term (in this case, tabernacle) with which you are unfamiliar and click on the “Look It Up” button, located at both the bottom and the top of each content page. OBSO will display search results based on that term acting as a keyword search term. Not only should you be able to find out what the term means, but you can find other areas in OBSO where that term is used. The search results from the Dictionary of the Bible may be particularly helpful when looking up a term.

Is there a way to search an entire Bible for just the term tabernacle?

There is a way to search the Bible for just one word. Such an index is called a concordance, and OBSO has included two concise concordances for your research needs. Under the Bible Text tab, you’ll see that on the bottom of either the pull-down menu or the left navigation sidebar, there are the NRSV and NAB concordances. Pick one and browse for your term, in this case, tabernacle. Once found, OBSO will display the locations in the Bible where that term is found. Keep in mind the concordances are concise, so not every term in the Bible is included.

There are many places in the Bible that use different weights, measurements, and calendars. How am I supposed to know what those mean in today’s context?

If you look under the Tools & Resources tab, there are a number of very valuable categories, including weights and measurements, and calendars as well as a lectionary, an A –Z list of Bible books, further readings, and other Internet resources. Together, these should help you understand certain biblical contexts in today’s terms.

How is bibliographic information helpful?

To begin, since bibliographic information is a list of works that were used for reference in the construction of a written work, it is important to see where an author is drawing their information from, and if those sources are reliable or questionable. Second, you can use the bibliographic information included in written works for your own research. For example, when you search for feminism, there is at least one result that is titled “Bibliography.” When you click on a bibliography result, you get a list of works that were used in a related work. You can look through the list of sources and take note of anything that looks relevant to your research topic. This approach is called citation tracking and can be very helpful in starting to find sources for your own research.

I found a citation for an author, and I’d like to find more works from that author.

In order to find if there are other related works by that same author, you can use the Bibliography Search function under the Search tab. The Bibliography Search is designed to search bibliographic citations and gives you the option of restricting your search results by an author’s name, journal title, work title, publisher, or publication year. Additionally, you can perform a Full Text search with or without any of the aforementioned criteria. On top of that, you can create topic-specificity by checking some of the topic-boxes near the bottom of the screen and narrowing the search criteria.

The bibliography has some sources I would like to use, but how can I use them if they aren’t on the site?

Even though OBSO has a very large and diverse collection of Bible-related works, there are some essays and articles on biblical topics that are not included. But OBSO can help you locate what you’re looking for. At the end of each bibliographic citation, there is a button titled “Find It!” This “Find It!” function connects the site to your library’s catalog and allows you to see if your library or institution has the source. If your library doesn’t have what you’re looking for, be sure to take the citation to your librarian. Your librarian may be able to get the source for you through interlibrary loan or some other avenue. By using “Find It!” function, you will have a much easier time tracking down and obtaining works that are mentioned on OBSO but are currently not available online.

How do I cite OBSO sources?

You need to cite the information you obtain from OBSO’s collection in the same way you would for any other book or online resource. OBSO provides a function called “Cite” to make this easier. As the title suggests, “Cite” generates a citation for the source you are using in both MLA and Chicago writing styles. You can copy and paste this into your own bibliography or, if you use a citation management program, you can download the citation directly into EndNote™, ReferenceManager™, ProCite™, or RefWorks™.

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