You can plan to do much more writing in a graduate theological program than in
other types of education. This is because the main form of communication is writing and
there is a vast literature spanning 2000 years. Every piece you write must contain three
essential elements that form the “bare bones” of any written structure (Payne, 1965).
The introduction ought to draw the reader into the body of the material to follow.
It should begin with a general statement or question, sometimes called the “thesis
statement” or “thesis question,” followed by a quick narrowing down to the main theme
to be developed in the body. Set the stage quickly, give appropriate background, then
move right into a transition sentence that will set up the reader for the body.
2. Body (argument)
The body of a written piece is where you elaborate, defend, and expand the thesis
introduced in the first section. The body should support your main contention with
supporting evidence and possible objections. A good body presents both sides of a case,
pros and cons. Save your best argument for last. When presenting contrary views, be sure
to set forth the strongest arguments so you can avoid someone charging you with erecting
a “straw man.” When moving from one sub-point or argument to the next, be sure to
employ the use of connecting or transition words and phrases that enable the reader to
follow the flow of your case (argument). The following is a partial list of logical
connectors appropriate in your writing:
exceptions – but, alas, however, etc.
illustrations -for instance, for example, etc.
conclusions -thus, so, therefore, consequently, etc.
comparisons -similarly, by contrast, etc.
qualifications – yet, still, etc.
additions – moreover, furthermore, etc.
The writing of the body of any piece best includes the following three components:
a. elaboration: spell out the details by defining, clarifying and adding relevant, pertinent
b. illustration: paint a verbal picture that helps make or clarify our point(s).
Well-illustrated pieces are easier to read and follow than those that grind on at a very
high level of abstraction.
c. argumentation: give the reasons, justifications, and rationales for the position or view
you have taken in the introduction. Draw inferences for the reader and explain the
significance of assertion or claims made.
The conclusion is your best shot to make your final appeal to the reader and
consequently its importance cannot be overstated. Some refer to this “best shot” as “the
clincher” referring to the finishing, all-encompassing statement that wraps up your
presentation in a powerful or even dramatic fashion. Normally a single paragraph, brief
and concise, will suffice. The purpose of the conclusion is to leave the reader with an idea
or thought that captures the essence of the body while provoking further reflection and
All of the courses you take at Liberty University will involve oral presentations of
various sorts presented in video format. Good listening or viewing skills are, therefore,
essential for academic success. Here are some suggestions for improving your listening
Most listening scholars recognize a direct relationship between the reception of
aural stimuli (listening) and learning. The result of much of this research clearly suggests
that listening is a learned behavior/skill. Therefore, it can and should be taught, especially
to students who spend most of their time listening.
Dr. Harrel T. Allen has said, “Listening is hard work and requires increased
energy–your heart rate speeds up, your blood circulates faster, and your temperature goes
up.” Listening is a complex activity that requires our full attention and a well-rested body
and mind. Avoid listening to course videos when you are tired. Always be at your best
Listening requires attention because the mind works faster than the mouth can
speak. The average speaking rate of speed is about 125 words per minute. The average
person thinks at a rate of 500 words per minute, or about four times as fast. As a result,
your mind has a tendency to wander and allow other thoughts to intrude upon what you
are listening to. Therefore, good listeners have learned how to avoid distractions and
concentrate fully on what they are hearing. Multi-tasking while listening, although
frequently practiced, has been scientifically demonstrated to be an inferior learning
Listen actively by interacting with the speaker. Active listeners pay attention to
the speaker and try to make sense of what they hear. Active listeners refuse to allow
verbal tics (“um,” “ah,” or favorite words and phrases) or mannerisms (jingling keys or
coins) to distract them from the essential message. Ask questions, check your
understanding, make counter-points, etc. Identify the speaker’s purpose and general
approach while listening for specifics without being fixated upon them. This is tricky, but
you can learn it with practice. Active listening assumes that something in the presentation
will be useful either now or in the future. Therefore, active listeners tend to be more
highly motivated to listen no matter how effective or ineffective the speaker may be.
Active listeners make a decision to listen and thereby strengthen their commitment to
learn. Listen for repeated terms, words, ideas, or signal words. For example, a speaker
might say, “There are three major views regarding the relationship between the
testaments.” The signal word or phrase here is “three major views.” This should trigger a
response from you that alerts you to listen for those three major views.
Here is an interesting vein of research that has developed over the last ten years.
Italian neuroscientist Vittorio Gallese, identified the phenomenon of mirror neurons in
the brain. He found that while watching someone perform an action like drinking water
from a bottle or glass – the person watching or observing automatically activated the
same neurons that would light up if that person took the drink themselves. As far as our
brain is concerned observing someone do something is like doing it ourselves.
However, the follow-up research of three professors from Princeton University
(Stephens, Silbert, and Hasson, 2010) is even more intriguing.1 They asked the question,
“I wonder if this same mirror neuron effect is present when simply listening to someone
speak about drinking water without the person being present?” They found that the same
regions of the brain activated just as they did in the original research but now simply by
listening not by observing. The Princeton researchers referred to this as neural coupling
because the neural activity of the speaker and the listener couple during a communication
event. Instead of viewing an audience as passive during a communication event – the
brains of the audience are extremely active. In fact, the audience members in the
research, so attuned and engaged with the speaker, were often able to predict or anticipate
what the speaker was going to say next. They could predict, at a very high rate of
accuracy, what words the speaker might use before the speaker uttered them. In short,
1 “Speaker-listener neural coupling underlies successful communication,” Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 2010:107 (32): 14425-30.
they found that “the listener’s brain activity mirrors the speaker’s brain activity with
temporal delays” (p. 14428).
Active listeners are made, not born. We acquire listening skills by imitation of
good listeners and by learning them deliberately. Active listening/viewing promotes
speaker-listener neural coupling and produces effective communication and
Critical Thinking Skills
The hidden curriculum of previous generations in higher education was the
teaching of critical thinking skills. Recently, these skills have come to be a more obvious
part of our intentional instruction. Critical thinking refers to the ability to consider
logically, react, and process information or data in a sophisticated manner. Many Liberty
University professors base learning outcomes on Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational
Objectives in the Cognitive Domain.2 The Taxonomy proposes a hierarchy of critical
thinking abilities from simple comprehension to more complex critical evaluation and
judgment. We expect students to be able to use the higher order skills of critical thinking.
Even within a degree program, the first courses are more general in nature and require
less critical thinking than courses of a more theoretical or technical nature. Rather than
assuming you have already acquired these skills, or that you will obtain them by osmosis
simply by taking online courses, this section of our orientation intends to be more
2 Bloom B., B. Mesia, and D. Krathwohl (1964). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives in the Cognitive
Domain (New York: David McKay).
Harvard researcher D. N. Perkins in the Graduate School of Education has
observed that competent thinkers proceed by challenging and altering premises,
accumulating and abandoning assumptions, until they reach a tentative conclusion. This
kind of effective reasoning interrogates one’s own knowledge, assumptions, information,
and possibly even conclusions because the learner holds them tentatively. This kind of
thinking is not “knit-picking” but reflects an intense desire and curiosity to understand
and assess a matter or issue carefully. Critical reasoning is inquiry and discovery through
probing strategies that enlighten and inform. In short, the questions, “what?” “why?” and
“why not?” form the query base of solid critical thinking and reasoning in an academic