Prof. James D.G. Dunn (Emeritus Lightfoot Professor of Divinity, University of Durham) is undoubtedly my favorite New Testament theologian – brilliant, gracious, creative, and a wonderful friend and mentor to his students. It is an understatement to say that he is prolific – I am especially fond of his commentaries on Romans (WBC), Colossians (NIGTC), and Galatians (BNTC), but he has written many stimulating monographs including Christology in the Making, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament, Theology of Paul the Apostle, and the acclaimed three volumes in the “Christianity in the Making” series, the third volume having just been released, Neither Jew nor Gentile. I was deeply honored to have him answer questions about his way of doing research.
How do you approach research as a whole? Do you have a big-picture strategy? Do your research all at once, and then write? Do you do some sketching and reflecting on paper and then dig into research? Do you go back and forth?
My practice over the past 40 years or so has been to identify an issue or subject I want to write on, but to confine my reading to a few major works (to ensure I am alert to the main issues) and to work directly on the text(s) to draft out what seems to me to be the main concerns and arguments. Only then, with a paper in first draft, do I go into intense study of as much of the main secondary literature as I can lay my hands on. This may explain why in most of my writings most of the argument with other scholars comes in the endnotes.
- What kind of notes do you take (ideas, quotes, etc.)? How do you organize them?
Since my preliminary draft will have identified most of the issues to be discussed, when I do the more extensive secondary reading the notes I take are of direct relevance to the issues identified.
- What kind of tools do you use for researching and collecting information? (software? Do you store notes in Endnote? Dropbox? Evernote? Filing cabinet?)
This question comes too late for me. I developed my own style well before Dropbox, etc. was available. And in what I have been doing since these tools became available it wasn’t really necessary to change my practice.
- What have you learned about doing research, collecting notes, and the process of writing throughout your career – put another way, if you could get into a time machine and go back twenty years (or ten years), what advice would you want to give to your younger self about the process of research and how you take notes and read scholarship?
I would press the value of the practice I have followed, since it allows the texts to throw up the questions and enables me to order the results of my reading in accord with the text and the issues/questions raised thereby. It would seem to me to be important that the texts being analyzed or discussed always have primacy and the secondary literature be treated as secondary.