As the semester has begun, many SBTS and Boyce students are writing Book Reviews. Here's an example of Book Review, scripted by Marcus Leman, Ph.D. The title, "Air, Light, Space, and Time: How Successful Academics Write" by Helen Sword, in which he reviews how academic go about the process of writing successfully.
A few weeks ago, the Logos Academic Blog featured and interview with Dr. Craig Keener of Asbury Theological Seminary about his writing process. Well, this past week, the Zondervan Academic Blog released a video interview with him that was a bit wider in its scope. You can watch the video here. In order to watch it, you will be required to give them your email address.
I won't spoil the video for you, but a couple of things stuck out to me (Joseph Habib) that I would critique and would love to hear others' thoughts on.
- At some point in the video, Dr. Keener says something to the effect of "It's hard for me to read a book for an entire week." As in, he usually "reads" them within minutes. I'm really glad he brought this up. In his context, this makes total sense and is an important point to discuss when relating to writing. Dr. Keener is a publishing machine. Google a list of his publications and prepare to feel like the most unproductive human being in history. For most of us (students), we are not yet saturated in a field. When we "read" a book, we usually have to leaf through every word, from beginning to end. The more you grow in your knowledge of a given area, though, the more you can differentiate what is pertinent to your research and what isn't. When Dr. Keener reads about the New Testament, he can probably read the introduction and conclusion of the book and subsequently—very reliably—supply the middle due to his massive mental repository of New Testament studies which he has built up over the years. I've spoken with scholars who will actually put sources in their footnotes FIRST (!), highlight them in red to let them know to read it, and then research it for half an hour later. It's good to have these registers of reading in mind so as to not be overwhelmed by the deluge of sources you find in some books. Might I also add, carefully mining the right book for weeks will do more for you than skimming 10 "less right" books in a week.
- If you are not aware, Dr. Keener released a colossal 4-volume commentary on the book of Acts. He mentions in the interview that it "almost killed" him and that he would tell his younger self to "bear the burden in your youth." I would like to, however, kindly challenge this notion. I really think the work can be spread evenly over a lifetime. I once heard a very reputable holistic doctor (and not one of the weird ones) say something to the effect of "the quality of your life depends on thousands of seemingly insignificant decisions you make throughout the day." Fitness and health is very overcomplicated today, but putting into practice these "insignificant decisions" does not have to be. Everybody can look up how to do a proper bodyweight squat. Then get up from your chair every 30 minutes or so and perform about 15 of them. The movement adds up over time! You are probably thinking "what does this have to do with writing!?" Go to any reputable scientific database and look up the connection between movement and cognition. It is overwhelmingly clear that if blood does not regularly flow throughout the body, brain function becomes impaired. In other words, lack of movement impedes creativity. In order to do high-quality work, the writer—not just the writing—must be taken into consideration. You are not just a brain with legs! Having this type of mindset provides a much more sustainable model for doing God's work as long as possible!
I hope you enjoy the video! It is absolute gold and Dr. Keener is so gracious for taking the time to do it!
Yes it does, fam . . .
No template will cater to all the variance any two people will have in their paper (think variance in title length, different items in lists, etc.). That is to say, the templates are not perfect, they are just that—TEMPLATES—a bare-bones skeleton onto which you map the unique DNA that is your paper.
Ok, now that that's out of the way, most formatting issues I see come from a failure to understand styles.
What is a Style?
A style is a preconfigured set of attributes applied to any given variable within your document. That was a long and fancy definition so perhaps an illustrative scenario is in order. All that makes a template a template is the fact that a number of styles has been pre-set.
- Imagine that you want to quote a source in block quotation format, but do not want to manually set the proper indentation (0.35in bt-dubz) and single spacing EVERY TIME. Wouldn't it be nice to have a single button to click that sets those parameters for you? There is!!!!! This button is a style.
- Now imagine that you realize you used the wrong font for your block quotations but don't want to click through all of them. You need a place where you can make all the edit in one window; you need a style.
Ok enough theory, let's see what this actually looks like.
Working with Word
Most versions of word will have a style pane located in the main toolbar in the "home" ribbon. On my version (2017) it look like this:
Each one of those little "blocks" is a style. While useful, this view is somewhat limited because, as you can see, only 6 or 7 styles are visible. In my version of Word, I prefer to keep my styles pane open.
In older versions of Word, the style pane can be accessed by a small arrow next to the initial style palette.
Accessing the styles is the first step to effectively using them. If you don't remember anything from this post remember this sentence: Most every formatting mistake on the template happens because students fail to match a given portion of the document to the relevant (preset) style.
The moral of the story is to make sure you click the appropriate style BEFORE you start typing stuff. To do this, you need to know how the styles are titled. For this information, simply click on an element in the template document and observe which style gets highlighted in the style pane.
The style for the title of the research paper is titled "TITLE PAGE TITLE 1 LINE." I know this because when I place my cursor in that spot, the style pane (on the right) will tell me. So, when I go to type my title, I MUST make sure "TITLE PAGE TITLE 1 LINE" is selected. Notice too that There is a style titled "TITLE PAGE TITLE 2 LINES" and one for 3 lines. So, if your title has two lines, guess which style you need to have selected?
Side note: To select a style, you can either click it beforehand and then start typing, or type it first, highlight it, then select the style.
Turning from the preliminary pages of a paper, we will now go over common issues in the body. Probably the two biggest issue I see is (1) a failure to make sure the body of your text actually has the "body of text" style, and (2) headings.
Word's default style for the body of your text is called "Normal." You a actually see this in the picture above. Repeat after me, NORMAL IS BAD. Who wants to be normal?
The proper style for the body of your paper is....wait for it..."body of text" (gasp!).
There you have it. Before you begin typing on the template, simply place the cursor where you want to type and make not of which style gets highlighted in your styles pane. Either select the style before typing, or type it, highlight, and then select the style. I hope this helps. Please leave any questions in the comment section below!
We receive many questions regarding how to cite in-class material, whether a comment your professor made or a class handout. One of our Writing Experts, Mr. Michael Woodall, has put together this helpful guide! Please let us know in the comments if you have any questions that go unanswered.
"Thus Saith the Prof"
Have you ever heard something in a class lecture that blew your mind, so much so that you wanted to refer to it in one of your papers? (After all, you are at Southern Seminary, with a remarkable faculty. They speak, and with authority!) So, you found yourself at a loss for what to do?
Consequently, when it comes to using the material, you’re faced with an apparent dilemma. On the one hand, of course, you want to avoid plagiarizing your prof. Thus, you must give him appropriate credit. Yet, on the other hand, you don’t want to “take his name in vain,” misrepresenting their position. Nevertheless, you deem the information useful and supportive of your own arguments, so much so that you just can’t do without including it. Therefore, you wish to reference it meaningfully and correctly in your work.
Occasionally at the Writing Center, we encounter students who are unsure how to cite in their papers something that a professor proposed in a class lecture. That being the case, we offer a simple solution—until our age (or institution) decides otherwise.
WHAT HE SAID.
In short, we typically point students to the basic format for citing an academic paper. Thus, you’ll want to cite your professor in your footnote and bibliography in one of the following ways:
1Daniel I. Block, “The Deuteronomic Torah: A Call for Responsible and Compassionate Patricentrism” (paper presented at the annual meeting for the Evangelical Theological Society, Atlanta, Georgia, November 17–19, 2015).
2Block, "The Deuteronomic Torah."
Block, Daniel I. “The Deuteronomic Torah: A Call for Responsible and Compassionate Patricentrism.” Paper presented at the annual meeting for the Evangelical Theological Society, Atlanta, Georgia, November 17–19, 2015.
1Douglas K. Blount, “The Word Enfleshed by Oliver Crisp” (class lecture presented at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky, June 15, 2017).
2Blount, "Word Enfleshed."
Blount, Douglas K. “The Word Enfleshed by Oliver Crisp.” Class lecture presented at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky, June 15, 2017.
Keep in mind that your professor may have manuscript notes for her lecture. So, you’ll want to you ask her to see if you can obtain those and thus duly quote her. If so, follow the print material form.
CITE IT BUT DON’T QUOTE IT!
But what if he doesn’t have manuscript notes for his lecture? Furthermore, his material is not published or in print at all. Therefore, if the professor’s material (lecture, sermon, discussion after class, etc.) does not have a printed transcript, CITE IT BUT DON’T QUOTE IT.
YOU CAN QUOTE ME ON THAT!
Still, your professor may have such a manuscript. In fact, it may appear in a printed publication such as a book or journal article. In that case, you may do better to present the quotation and cite the printed source.
IN THE CITE OF EVERYONE
Again, you want your reader to be completely confident of two things:
- You’re accurately representing (and not misrepresenting) a scholar’s view(s);
- The material should, in fact, be credited to your professor.
Anything less amounts to a “literary transgression.” It may not be the “unpardonable sin,” but it is terrible scholarship nonetheless. You may damage the reputation of your prof as well as your own. Don’t do it. Just don’t. “On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor 4:2).
Okay, let’s be positive again. Your professor has valuable insights. Great! Utilize them. Check if she is in print with the material, either published or in manuscript lecture notes. If she’s in print, cite and quote her. If not, then cite, but do not quote. Yet, do everything accurately and clearly. In this way, you will avoid “misusing” people’s material and names.
And so, that is how you observe “Thus saith the prof.” Now, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear . . . and properly cite.”
For further help with this format and others, see:
- SBTS Turabian Quick Guide
- Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 8th ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2013), 144-215.
In part one of this series, I arranged some criteria by which to judge any note-taking system. Some may disagree, but they are only MY preferences as well as what I noticed many respectable scholars doing.
The quick-and-dirty of it is that I want my note-taking system to be simple, searchable, and retrievable . . . forever.
After much toil and asking around, my current solution to this conundrum is (drum roll): subjects and tags.
By subjects I mean arranging your notes by subject-headings. You can do this no matter which program you use. Arranging by subject solves the issue of having a million documents in a folder. It also keeps everything on that given subject in ONE place so you can search it later. For example, let's say you are taking in-depth notes on a book. Do you make a separate file for that book? If that's the case, are you going to make a separate file every time you read a book? How will you retrieve this information (read: search this information)?
So, for any given program, this would look like creating files (or notes) with the "subject" as your title. (e.g., "New Testament," "Greek Grammar," "Systematic Theology," etc). You can be as general or as specific as you want. If you read the post by Dr. Craig Keener last week, then you know that he used to file index cards by scripture. I emailed him to ask what he does now, and "subjects" is it! I have also heard of other successful authors using a similar system. A "subject" exists on your machine as a single document. After you create your document, you just place every piece of information you read—along with its source—inside this document. And yes, after a few years this document will be hundreds—maybe thousands—of pages long, which leads to the next part of my solution.
Don't act like you don't know what a tag is!
"Hashtags" are not a new concept. A tag is simply metadata by which you can collate information quickly. So, click a hashtag on a social media platform and you instantly get every piece of information (post) attached to that tag, even though they are from disparate sources (people).
Ten years from now, your subject-document will have thousands of pages of notes in it. How do you recall information? Tag it! Writing a paper on verbal aspect? Just go to your "Greek Grammar" document and search for whatever tag you put that information under (e.g., #verbalaspect, #perfectaspect, etc.). Here is the part that is really going to blow your mind. You don't need a fancy software that has a tagging feature; you can just manually tag things.
In a simple Word Processor like Microsoft Word, you would write a word or two after the sentence/paragraph/block of notes. Take the tags you use and put them in a list somewhere so as to make sure you are using the same tags every time. When you want to retrieve information, just type the name of the tag in Word's search bar (Command+F for Macs; Control+F for PCs).
But let's be honest, auto-tags (the program keeping track of your tags for you) would be nice, huh? The good news is that a whole new genre of note-taking apps is emerging. Many of these apps have specific tagging features. To my knowledge, the most popular ones are Ulysses, Bear, and Evernote. I personally use Bear because, quite honestly, it's the easiest one, and this simple Mississippi-boy likes easy. So, I'll just give you a quick look at how I do this.
Evernote and Ulysses contain too many features for my liking. If I had access to these features, I probably would never use 95% of them. Bear is good at one thing: note-taking. As such, it's free from clutter and confusing functions. Additionally, bear is FREE! There is a subscription option which allows you to sync up with your iPhone at only $15 per-year (I happily subscribe). Even without the subscription, though, most of the functionality is there. A subscription-based program will usually be the desirable one due to the incentive it puts on the app designers to keep improving. If the updates stop, the designers stop getting paid.
Here is a screenshot of my Bear app:
Notice a few things:
- Bear does NOT have folders. You will notice on the far left that the app's hierarchy is tags. This way, if you have a piece of information that applies to two different subjects, it doesn't matter which note you put it in as long as you tag it correctly.
- The second column contains my "subjects"; i.e., my documents. I personally have one note for each book of the Bible, as well as the various subjects pertinent to my research and interests.
- The third column is where you actually take notes. In the picture above, no actual tags are shown; I will demonstrate the tagging features below. In this specific case, each verse gets a bullet and then notes for that verse go underneath. You will even notice that I dragged in some pictures of Qumran variants with Bear's simple drag-and-drop feature.
Now for the tagging features:
- The tags are in grey. To type a tag, you just press the "#" key like you would on any social media platform.
- Bear also nests tags. You can see on the second bullet that I have two "sub-tags" (qumran and lxx) under the parent tag #textcrit. If you scroll to the picture above and look at the column with the list of tags, you can see that bear will even arrange your nested tags underneath the appropriate parent tags.
- Finally, notice how I began to type "#te" and the auto-tag feature popped up. This feature will display even if you begin typing a tag that is nested. This way, if you are not sure whether or not you have used a tag before, you can just try it out and bear will recall it for you.
Bear has a few other neat features as well but, as stated above, you could get by with any Word Processor. I hope this has been helpful. Please email us if you have any questions!
One of our Writing Experts, Dr. Marcus Leman, told me the following may be "one of the most helpful pieces of writing advice [he] ever received:"
“Give your essay the three-part feel of completion, of beginning, middle, and end. Many a beginner’s essay has no structure and leaves no impression. It is all chaotic middle. It has no beginning; it just starts. It has no end; it just stops, burned out at two in the morning.” [Sheridan Baker, The Longman Practical Stylist (New York: Pearson Education, 2006), 27.]
Dr. Leman continues:
"Every paragraph, every unit, every essay needs a beginning, middle, and end. Time invested in these slices of your essay will produce the greatest returns. Come learn more at our Writing Center workshop—"Structure and Style"—Thursday, February 15, 2018 at 2:00pm in Crismon Hall (Boyce Library)"
I have put much thought into refining my note-taking system. In the last blog post, I mentioned emailing, among other scholars, Dr. Craig S. Kenner of Asbury theological seminary about the way he/ they take notes. Although note-taking sounds intuitive, graduate-level research is a completely different game. For most students up through college, note-taking involves being able to recall information, in one class, for one exam in the not-so-distant future. Taking and subsequently retrieving notes is a little more straight-forward in this scenario—just find a notebook or a word document, jot the notes down, take the test, throw them away.
But, what happens when you want the notes to be comprehensive, easily searchable, and retrievable . . . forever. Go to the "productivity" section in the iTunes App store—that's what happens. A chaotic explosion of high-tech confusion. Struggling with this, I thought, "there has got to be a simpler way."
To be sure, everyone will differ on what will be optimal for them. All I can do here is tell you what I was looking for in a note-taking system:
- Future-proof: When talking about productivity apps, you will often encounter some form of this word. I'm not sure about the exact definition, so I'll tell you what I mean by it. An iPhone is NOT future-proof. Every few iOS updates, your phone slows down, eventually comes to a grinding halt, and then you have to buy a new one. With note-taking, you need a system that will not be rendered obsolete by new technology. Or, at least, a system which can transfer your notes to the given technology.
- Simplicity: I'm low-tech. I hate having to update stuff. I hate having 10-gazillion writing apps. I don't want to invest an entire afternoon learning an app's organization features; if the product has a seminar, it's too complicated. I don't want the interface of whatever I use to look like a bomb went off on the page. I don't want seventeen different apps that have third-party plug-ins, compatible with each other, and automated this and that. I want ONE, maybe two, apps where I can write my notes and leave them be.
- Retrievability: What good are detailed notes if you can't easily find what you are looking for 1, 5, 10, or 20 years from now? The other side to the retrievability coin is, when searching your notes, getting from the terms inside your head to the actual words you used when you typed the notes
- Organization: Here's a question—let's say you're taking notes on a book you're reading; where do the notes go? Do you make a new document for the book? Do you put the notes in a document titled with the subject matter under which you consider the book? Do you take notes by author? The trick here is having enough division within your hierarchy to be able to take notes on any subject, book, or article you want, but not so much division that you get lost in a sea of documents that you cannot search.
In part 2, I'll walk you through my solution that meets the above criteria based on experience and networking, as well as offer some tools to help. Sneak preview: Subjects and Tags
SBTS community. So sorry for not posting lately. We hope to get more quality information to you on a regular basis.
Dr. Craig S. Keener of Asbury Theological Seminary recently wrote an excellent little blurb about his pre-writing process. He includes a brief statement about some of his old note-taking strategies as well. I will copy and paste the post below, followed by some of my own thoughts and comments. Here is the link to the original article— https://academic.logos.com/craig-keeners-strategies-and-reasons-for-writing/
Strategies and Reasons for Writing
By Craig S. Keener
Younger seminary professors sometimes ask me about my experiences as a writer. Many have trouble finding time to write, a situation for which I have sympathy. For the first four years of my teaching career, I was teaching an average of ten courses a year, many of them new courses and some of them outside my discipline. But when I was not teaching, preparing, ministering, worshiping, or attending meetings, I made research and writing my default setting. Because it was part of my mission to serve the church, I squeezed out every available moment to do it. That, of course, meant no television, but I had long before gotten used to that, and it proved a useful habit to cultivate. (Being single at the time also helped, but I do much prefer
Logistics of writing
What helped me most was how much work I had done in advance. Even as an undergraduate, I started taking careful notes on everything valuable that I read, then filing each piece of information according to the Scripture passage(s) it would help me understand. This was before the days of computers, so I ended up with 100,000 index cards of information (and a sore hand).
Whatever stage of career you are in, it is important to take good notes and organize the information so you can find it when you need it. Otherwise, you may find yourself vaguely recalling some relevant information but not recalling where you found it. That is when research becomes, sadly, “re-search.” Keep track of your information so you do not need to waste time looking for it twice.
At least for me, it is simpler to write in stages rather than all at once. If you are writing something that is information-based, you can organize most of your information and ideas before you begin writing. That makes writing much easier.
The stage of writing the rough draft is the most tedious—at least for me. It requires the greatest level of uninterrupted concentration. But once you have something down on paper, most of the most difficult work is done.
After this “pre-writing,” you can do your rewriting. Because I spend too much time in front of the computer, I personally prefer to do this stage in hard copy. After I print out my rough draft, I mark it up. Editing the work gives you the opportunity to view it as a whole. Leaving some time between writing and editing also helps you read it almost like someone who has never read it before—when what you meant is no longer obvious unless you have communicated it clearly.
If your rough draft does not already provide lead-ins for each section, now is the time to add them. By starting each section with a sentence or two summarizing what you will cover in that section, you will make your flow of thought much clearer for your readers. (Lead-in sentences also make many paragraphs clearer.)
Motivation for writing
Seminaries and divinity schools are professional schools, combining academic rigor with the training of servants for the church. Seminary professors thus have both academic and popular constituencies; we may write for either or both audiences.
What is most important is to write what the Lord gives you a passion for—something that you feel can make a difference (hopefully not only for tenure). Often I write with scholarly concerns (e.g., my four-volume Acts commentary); sometimes I have also addressed questions about the sources’ reliability left over from my preconversion atheism.
The reason I went into scholarship to begin with, however, was to understand and help others understand what the Bible communicated to its first audiences, so some of my earliest works were directly for the church. In particular, I wanted to make available the setting of the New Testament for pastors, seminarians, and other readers in an accessible format. Since no one had written a “Bible background commentary” by the time I finished my doctorate, I resolved to write one.
Unfortunately, I could not find a teaching position for my first year out of my PhD program. I was praying frantically, but soon it became obvious that I would be unemployed that fall! One evening I calculated how much income I needed to live on and gave up in despair; the next day, the publisher called me about my proposed background commentary. They offered me an advance that was, to the dollar, what I had decided the night before I needed to live on! So that year I wrote the draft of the commentary, and the next year I had a teaching position.
Following the passion God lays on your heart not only provides motivation to write; it also can help us produce what will be useful for others.
So much great stuff in there! What caught my eye, specifically, was his old note-taking system. When I (Joseph Habib) first read this I wish he included a few words on what he currently does to take notes. Eager to know, I ended up emailing and asking him myself. His answer did not surprise me all that much, as I have asked many successful scholars about their system. To find out, however, you will have to read the next blog post!
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