How to Write an Informative Essay in Religious Studies – a Guide for a College Student

Writing guide
Posted on October 16, 2019

As a discipline that researches one of the most sensitive subjects for many people, religious studies can be extremely difficult to deal with if you want to write an informative essay. However, the ability to use this approach is basically a prerequisite for working with this discipline. An informative essay presupposes that you do not try to persuade the audience or prove your point of view to be correct. As far as you are concerned, you do not have a point of view at all – you look at the subject matter in an objective, passionless manner and simply inform the audience about it. It is very important to disengage yourself from any opinions you may have on the topic – if you fail to do so, it will be immediately obvious, and your work will not qualify as an informative essay.

To avoid these and other pitfalls, one needs a clear-cut guide to follow. Which is exactly what our team of writers specializing in this type of work prepared for you.

How to Write an Informative Essay in Religious Studies – Starting Out

1. Make Sure You Understand the Assignment

It may sound obvious, but you will be amazed how many students jump into the fray without realizing what exactly they are supposed to do. Read the assignment carefully and pay attention to every word. If you are unsure what certain instructions mean, ask your professor about it. Are there any limitations to the choice of topic? Does your professor add an unusual twist to the usual informative essay formula?

2. Choose a Topic

The choice of a topic is one of the most important stages of work on an informative essay in religious studies. In this respect, it is not much different from most other disciplines; however, a correctly chosen topic is arguably even more important in this case than usually. As religious studies tend to cover very sensitive subjects, it can be exceedingly difficult to choose a topic you can simply tell about, without touching upon anything that can offend anybody. This means that in addition to usual concerns (choosing something interesting, making sure that there is enough background information about the subject and so on), you have to consider a number of other factors.

Remember that religious studies is an interdisciplinary field that can be viewed from a number of standpoints. This means that the point of view you take can influence how you write and organize your essay, even though you still do not express any definite perspective. For example, you can provide an overview of the Shinto religion in general. You can take an ethnographic perspective and analyze it with heavy emphasis of anthropological and ethnographic aspects of the Japanese people. You can assume a comparative approach and tell about it in reference to another religion and its traditions (e.g., Chinese traditions of honoring their dead – it will not be a comparative essay per se, because you do not compare these two traditions. You simply inform the audience about this aspect of Shinto, and how the Japanese were influenced by their interactions with the Chinese).
Here are some examples of topics you may end up with:

  • Socio-Ethnographic Reasons That Influenced the Development of Buddhism;
  • Evolution of Religious Belief in India since the Early 20th Century until Present Day;
  • Religious Conflict in the Middle Ages: Most Important Features;
  • Evolution of Christian Prayer Over Time;
  • Connections between Islamic Rituals and Customs and the History in Which This Religion Developed.

3. Find Information Sources

Any academic paper, be it research or informative, has to be connected to a number of existing sources dealing with its subject matter. Even if you want to introduce your own ideas, you have to build upon what has been said before you. If, like in an informative essay, your job is merely to present the already existing information, your references to the existing body of research become even more important. But how does one find proper sources of information?

  • Check out Wikipedia. Wikipedia may have a notoriously bad reputation in terms of credibility, but firstly, it is not as bad as you may believe, and secondly, we do not offer you to quote Wikipedia itself. It can provide you a good overview of the subject matter, but its main use lies in the list of references and quotations at the bottom of each article. There you will find links to the most important and most authoritative sources on the subjects you can use in your work;
  • Go to a library. Look for sources mentioned in the Wikipedia articles, ask a librarian to recommend you some sources on the topic, run a few searches using the most important keywords related to your topic;
  • look through their own bibliography pages and take notice of the items whose names seem relevant and publications by the authors that crop up multiple times in different places;
  • Try to diversify the types of sources you resort to. Using multiple peer-reviewed articles is a good idea (they are usually the most reliable ones), but intersperse them with mainstream books, magazine articles, websites and other sources to show that you looked far and wide for relevant information.

4. Analyze and Evaluate Your Sources

Sources have wildly different value, especially in a field as prone to bias and hidden agendas as religious studies. Before you use any information from a source in your essay, you have to make sure you can trust it. There are many things that may indicate the relative value of a source, but the most important of them are:

  • H-index. H-index is a very convenient quantitative way of evaluating the impact or contribution of a specific scientist to his/her field. It is calculated very simply: it is a figure that indicates the number of publications by this author that have been referred to by other scholars at least the same number of times. I.e., an h-index of 12 means that this author published 12 peer-reviewed articles that each were cited at least 12 times. Look for scholars with their H-index at least above 10 (you can find this information in most academic databases, although keep in mind that they only consider the references contained in articles listed in them);
  • Currency. Religious studies may be less prone to dramatic changes of paradigms than some other disciplines, but it is still a good idea to look out for newer publications;
  • Objectivity. Look for signs of bias (charged language, author’s subjective viewpoint, attempts to persuade the audience, etc.);
  • Author and source credibility. If the author is not a peer-reviewed scholar, it may be harder to define whether he/she is an expert. Look for his/her other publications in the discipline, references in other sources, credentials, etc.

How to Write an Informative Essay in Religious Studies – Writing Principles

1. Start with an Outline

An outline is an in-depth plan of your essay. You can make it as detailed as you need – in most advanced cases it almost turns into a rough draft of a paper. At the very least, you have to list all the sections of your paper, write down what you will tell the audience in each body paragraph, how you maintain the logical flow of your writing, how you will tie the introduction, body paragraphs and conclusion together.

2. Write the Introduction

The purpose of the introduction is to provide a context for the rest of your essay. It is a good idea to start writing with a so-called “hook” – a catchy sentence that immediately attracts the audience’s attention. It may be an interesting fact, a quotation or a strong and though-provoking statement.
After that, you should provide a short yet comprehensive overview of the topic you discuss: what is known about it, what is the current state of research on it, etc. Your introduction ends where you lead up to the main contents of the essay.

3. Write the Body Paragraphs, Each Covering a Single Point

The number of body paragraphs may vary depending on your word limit and the extensiveness of the topic you cover, but usually it is no less than three (like in a classic five-paragraph essay). Each paragraph should follow more or less the same structure. Start it with a topic sentence (something akin to a small thesis statement, describing the main topic covered by the paragraph) and follow it with a few supporting sentences (introducing facts, statistics and evidence further covering the topic). Especially long paragraphs may need a conclusion where you sum up the information before proceeding further – but it is optional.

4. Connect Sections and Paragraphs Using Transitions

Transitional sentences and phrases are words that provide logical connections between separate parts of a paper and make its flow feel smoother. You may think that they are not very important, but it is a thing that is not very noticeable as long as it is present and done well. Miss a couple of them, and your essay will look disjointed, even if the facts inside it follow each other in a logical manner.

5. Wrap Things up in a Relevant Conclusion

Informative essays usually end with a relatively short paragraph that reiterates the main points described in the body and refers back to the statement made in the introduction. If you left certain aspects of the topic you write about uncovered in your essay for certain reasons, now is the time to clarify it and explain why you decided to omit them.

How to Write an Informative Essay in Religious Studies – Edit and Proofread

1. Take a Break

Revising an essay immediately after you finished writing is next to useless. It is still too fresh in your memory, and you more anticipate what you are going to read than actually read it. This is why it pays to try and finish writing your essays at least a few days before the submission date – this way you will have time for the much-needed break and will be able to view your text with a fresh eye.

2. Look for Obvious Problems

Read your entire essay (preferably several times, each time focusing on a particular type of problem) looking for some typical drawbacks academic writing suffers from. Some examples include:

  • Wordiness – eliminate unnecessary words, sentences or even paragraphs;
  • Vagueness – if you did not explain certain points well enough, now is your last chance to introduce the necessary additions;
  • Irrelevance – if you notice that you go off on a tangent, look how you can better attach this passage to the main thought or exclude it altogether;
  • Gaps in logic, poor transitions – make sure the essay flows smoothly, without noticeable gaps and stutters. If you notice that one section does not naturally follow the previous one, try switching things around or work on your transition phrases.

3. Check the Essay for Stylistic Mistakes

Not all language is acceptable in an academic work. You should not use things like slang, emotionally charged words or overly informal expressions. As you are writing an informative essay, such stylistically inappropriate language is doubly unacceptable, because you are supposed to be purely objective and avoid anything that may indicate your personal point of view and opinion on the subject.

4. Check for Grammar, Syntax and Spelling

Dedicate an individual rereading of your essay to singling out potential mistakes related to grammar, syntax and spelling. If you know yourself to be prone to particular types of mistakes (e.g., you know that you mix up “you’re” and “your”), write them down on a separate sheet of paper and keep it in front of you when you revise.

5. Correct Formatting and Style

Different academic formatting and citation styles have dramatically different requirements. You may think of them as a purely formal requirement that does not add or subtract anything from the value of your essay, but it is a moot point – you have to format your papers according to the format accepted by your college, and there is nothing to be done about it. So study the requirements carefully, use a citation generator to automate the creation of quotations and make sure you do them right, and spend an entire reread to check if you followed all the rules.

6. Check if You Cited All Sources Properly

Not just in terms of following the requirements of the citation style, but also by simply acknowledging that you used the information received from some other source. Go over your entire essay and make sure you provided all the references whenever you mentioned the data from any of the external sources you found earlier. Even if you miss doing it accidentally and not intentionally, you risk being accused of plagiarism, so pay special attention to this stage. However, draw a line between the data that has to be quoted and common knowledge – facts that are sufficiently well-known do not need to be cited.

Writing an informative essay on religious studies is an incredibly difficult and sensitive task, and you should not approach it lightly. However, with this guide in front of you, you will certainly be able to complete your assignment on time and get a grade you truly deserve!

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