What Do You Want Your Research to Be?

Once you’ve identified who your research is for, you’re then in a position to consider what you’re aiming to produce.1

This what could be described in various ways. But here, I’d like to suggest that what you, as an emerging biblical scholar, are aiming to produce in your research is something publishable.

If your who isn’t primarily folks who read academic monographs and journals, don’t worry. “Publishing” as I want to use the term here is broader than this.

What Happens in Publishing

In different contexts, what counts as “publishing” has different definitions. But what different kinds of publications share is that, in them,

  • you open your research to examination by others and
  • others examine your research in them.

If you technically make your research available to access but nobody examines it, it hasn’t fully been published.

In that case, your what hasn’t successfully addressed a who. It hasn’t reached anyone.

Your research is theoretically available to access. But nobody’s stopped to examine it.

There might be a who that wants it. But to them, your work hasn’t been published.

On the other hand, if somebody does examine your research, that necessarily means you’ve made it available to them.

Those two things together mean that your research is published.

What Publishing Is Depends on Who It Is For

Your “publishing” might take place in a book or journal if your who reads those kinds of publications. But “publishing” can take place in other modes as well.

These different definitions emerge because the who that consume different kinds of publications differs. And that who shapes and constrains the what that you need to produce for them.2

For instance, many Christian churches have a longstanding tradition for their assemblies called “the sermon” or “the lesson.”

If your who listens to these kinds of speeches, these can be good whats for your research to produce.

On the other hand, if your who reads technical journal articles and monographs, these kinds of speeches aren’t the way to reach them. They’re looking for a different what.


Of course, some biblical scholars have questioned whether scholarly research can happen in the context of faith communities.

And some faith leaders have questioned whether faithful research can happen in the context of certain scholarly communities.

Entering that debate here would take me too far afield. But suffice it to say here that neither group is, in principle, any less worthwhile a who for the what of your research than the other.

You might prioritize publishing to one. Someone else might prioritize publishing to the other. And those priorities might change with different research projects.

But in each case, the who of your audience will drive the what of creating publishable research for them.

  1. Header image provided by Glen Carrie. Here, I’m particularly playing off of and adapting the discussion of Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t (New York: HarperBusiness, 2001), 41–64. 

  2. For further discussion of how the audience shapes the rhetorical situation for any given piece of argumentation, see Lloyd F. Bitzer, “The Rhetorical Situation,” Philosophy and Rhetoric 1 (1968): 1–14. 

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