The Basics of a Dialogical Paper
Dialogical papers are a type of research paper written in conversation with other scholars. Imagine you are entering into an ongoing discussion; you would not want to restate what others have just talked about, rather you would tie their ideas together, insert your own perspective, and add something new. Similarly, dialogical writing combines research writing with reflection writing, asking you to use your voice in response to other scholars’ ideas. The basic requirements for this type of writing include: clarity of expression, an understanding of the academic context which surrounds your topic (i.e. what other scholars have had to say), fairness in handling opposing views, critical engagement with the various texts, and reflection on your own relevant beliefs and experiences.
Dialogical papers follow standard academic writing procedures. This means that the paper is written in your own words, with proper credit given when quoting or referring to words or ideas from relevant sources. The paper should also be written in good English, which includes proper spelling and grammar as well as prose that is free from informal English (slang, appeals to the reader, contractions, etc.). The text should be clear, coherent, and as concise as possible—wordiness does not equal scholarliness.
Matters to Consider in a Dialogical Paper
Researching a Dialogical Paper
- Pick reliable sources. Good starter questions for this include: who wrote it? when was it written? who published it? See the “Evaluating Sources” writing guide for more details on this.
- Stay focused. Research can seem never-ending. Rather than trying to exhaust the topic, focus on finding out who some of the main speakers are, what their perspectives are, and how they interact with each other.
- Look at bibliographies. After you find some reliable sources, look at their bibliographies to determine if they cite the names of the other scholars you are working with. When you see writers start to cite each other, you know they are “talking” to each other in the same conversation.
Creating a Thesis
- Determine your main idea. Defining the central idea you are trying to convey will help you from being overwhelmed by all the opinions on your topic. What is your stake in this topic? What do you believe? Answering those questions will help you form your thesis (main argument).
- Be bold. You have worthwhile things to say; we need to hear you.
- Relate to the conversation. Once you have your thesis, then you can tell us how it relates to the broader context. Are you clarifying what people have said, politely disagreeing, or adding something new?
Entering the Conversation
- Avoid summarizing. You don’t want to spend your whole paper describing the context, though you do need explain (briefly) the different perspectives of your sources as you introduce them.
- Engage the text. Avoid saying simply, “I agree,” or “I disagree.” Be critical, but respectful of the author as an accomplished scholar. Explain how the text has challenged your thinking. Why is this idea significant? This is your chance to add something to the conversation.
- Use polite etiquette. Especially when you are disagreeing, treat your sources respectfully. This might look like a sentence where you acknowledge, “While I see Smith’s perspective on X, I might suggest Y.” This summarizes Smith’s position while also correcting it and clarifying your own point.
- Focus on unity. Although you will likely be using multiple resources, tie the ideas around your thesis by asking: how do Scholar A’s ideas relate to Scholar B’s ideas? How does that influence your position?
Format of a Dialogical Paper
Unless your professor requests otherwise, the following conventions are recommended.
- Dialogical papers should be concise. These assignments may have a longer page count (typically between 3–10 pages), but that does not mean you can ramble. Stay focused.
- The paper should be typed and double-spaced using a clear, non-ornamental serif font. Examples of acceptable fonts include Times New Roman or Palatino. The text of the paper should be set in 12-point type with footnotes in 10-point.
- Margins are typically 1″ on all sides.
- Page numbers should be included on all pages in a place that remains consistent throughout the paper (i.e., top right on every page, bottom center on every page, etc.).
- Only one space (not two) should be placed after the terminal punctuation of a sentence.
- Titles of books and other longer works should be italicized, not underlined. Titles of articles, essays, parts of longer works, or other shorter works should be enclosed in quotation marks.
- “They Say/I Say”: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing, 3rd ed., by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein (Norton & Company, 2017).
- Writing with Sources: A Guide for Students, 2nd ed., by Gordon Harvey (Hackett Publishing, 2008).
- Your Guide to Writing Quality Research Papers: For Students of Religion and Theology, 3rd ed., by Nancy Jean Vyhmeister and Terry Dwain Robertson (Zondervan, 2014).