Running Heads

From the editors of Cascade Books and Pickwick Publications at Wipf and Stock Publishers

Category: Editing (page 2 of 3)

A Writer’s Manifesto

A journalist lists 25 commandments for writing that apply quite well to writers of all stripes. One of my favorites:

English is better than Latin. You don’t exterminate, you kill. You don’t salivate, you drool. You don’t conflagrate, you burn. Moses did not say to Pharaoh: “The consequence of non-release of one particular subject ethnic population could result ultimately in some kind of algal manifestation in the main river basin, with unforeseen outcomes for flora and fauna, not excluding consumer services.” He said “the waters which are in the river … shall be turned to blood, and the fish that is in the river shall die, and the river shall stink.”

Zombies and Grammatical Personhood

From this month’s Chicago Style Q&A:

Q. When referring to a zombie, should I use the relative pronoun who (which would refer to a person) or that (since, technically, the zombie is no longer living)? Essentially, does a zombie cease to become a “person” in the grammatical sense?

A. Let’s assume this is a serious question, in which case you, as the writer, get to decide just how much humanity (if any) and grammatical sense you wish to invest in said zombie. That will guide your choice of who or that.

Books that have affected me

For the most part I have little emotional attachment to the books I edit. Or better, I should say, there are few books that “grab” me emotionally. I have all sorts of investment in the books. I want to see them turn out well, sell well, and help the authors. And, there are several manuscripts that make me think anew about some scholarly issue. It is the rare book, though, that stops me in my editorial tracks and makes me think more deeply about my Christian identity. In the last few years the books that have affected me most have been those that somehow speak to the Christian role in a civil society. We publish a lot of books on the topic. The following are a few I’ve actually edited, Continue reading

Advice on Writing (Seminary Papers)

Last month my Facebook newsfeed was filled with weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. I have many friends who teach undergraduate and graduate courses. December was the “grading season.” It has been said by many professors, “I teach for free; they pay me to grade.” I, too, was a frustrated participant in the grading drudgery. I was reminded of a rant I made about the same time the year before. I’ve pasted it below. Many of these things could be taken to the next level and directed to authors of the manuscripts I encounter on a daily basis.

To all seminary students:

I realize most of you will spend your professional lives speaking to and for a lay audience. But please do keep in mind the generic difference between a talk to a church group and a graduate-level term paper. Also, it is OK to have an actual thesis statement in a paper on a biblical theme. Don’t just report what the biblical texts say. Make an argument and support it!

Other things to do or avoid:

1. Look back through the paper. If you have phrases like “I think…” or “I believe…,” then you better have some support for your thoughts or beliefs. Saying these things in passing is what you do in a journal not a term paper.

2. Don’t rehearse your research. If you have phrases like, “In my research I discovered…,” rewrite! Just write about the topic and cite your sources. Your readers do not need to be told that you discovered these things in your research. They know it was discovered through research because you will have written it and cited it.

3. Do not use second-person pronouns. Who is the “you”?

4. Let your conclusions come from your research. Do not use research to simply support your predispositions. In papers on biblical texts all you end up with is a bunch of prooftexting. This is not research and it is not a supported thesis.

5. Vines and Matthew Henry are not acceptable sources for graduate-level papers.

6. Become familiar with a style guide. If your institution does not require a certain bibliographic style (e.g., Turabian, MLA, APA), then pick one and follow it. Sloppy footnotes and bibliographies upset me, and you don’t want an upset reader grading your paper.

7. Remember the English language and its rules of grammar and punctuation. Sure, mistakes will be made. I make them all the time. But there is a difference between a few mistakes and a gross mishandling of normal writing conventions. This (and others above) spawn off a couple of other pointers: a) review your paper before submitting it; b) if you have doubts, have someone else read it and give feedback. If you or another cannot understand what you’ve written, don’t expect me to understand it.

The points, no doubt, came from particular frustrations I had with a stack of papers at the time. Many more things could be added. What writing advice would you give to graduate-level students of theology?

Editor-on-editor violence!

The reputable news agency, The Onion, is reporting a slew of recent gang-related violence associated with the notorious and violent copyediting gangs. As members of a small offshoot of The Chicago Manual of Style gang, we here at Wipf and Stock Publishers have started to keep a closer eye on suspicious activity that might be connected to Associated Press Style or MLA.

Don’t Kill a Puppy


As an editor, I run across a large number of insightful quotes. One of my favorites regarding language and writing is from Mark Twain. A drawing of Twain with this quotation hangs on my office wall, which my wife framed for me:

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” —Letter to George Bainton, Oct. 15, 1888 for inclusion in Bainton’s The Art of Authorship: Literary Reminiscences, Methods of Work, and Advice to Young Beginners (1890) 87–88

A New Year

Autumn is more appropriately a new year than January 1. In North America at least (and many other places too) fall sees the beginning of school, football, and television schedules. Churches, too, seem to awake from their summer slumber. All around their is a sense of getting started afresh, despite what the trees tell us with their changing and falling leaves.

This is true too for us editors in some ways. The height of our publishing year is the fall conference season, highlighted especially by the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature (AAR/SBL). Here we display our new publications from the past year, much like teenagers displaying their new school clothes on the first day of school.

My conference season begins as this blog post goes live. I will be in the air on my way to Chicago when this post activates. Annually I travel to North Park Theological Seminary for the North Park Symposium on the Theological Interpretation of Scripture. The papers from this symposium are published annually in the journal Ex Auditu, for which I serve as an associate editor and which Pickwick Publications produces. Klyne Snodgrass (editor) and Stephen Chester (associate editor), New Testament professors at North Park, manage to put together one of the best symposia I’ve ever attended. The papers center on a specific topic each year. The participants come from a variety of disciplines. And the schedule of presentations always allows for ample discussion. It models theological interpretation as much as it defines it!

This year the topic is “Family.” Among the participants are Stephen Barton, NT, formerly of University of Durham; Jana Marguerite Bennett, Theological Ethics, University of Dayton; Lynn Cohick, NT, Wheaton; Jim Dekker, Youth Ministry, North Park University; Dennis Olson, OT, Princeton Theological Seminary; Luke Powery, Princeton Theological Seminary; Caryn Reeder, OT, Westmont College; Julio Rubio, Christian Ethics, St. Louis University; and Mary Veeneman, Theology, North Park University.

In 2013 the topic will be “Urban Ministry”; and 2014 is the “Human Response to God.” The topics purposefully move between topics that we might say are more practical and more theological, or concrete and abstract.

After the symposium I return home for a bout a month and a half, and then leave again for the Midwest. I’ll be at the Evangelical Theological Society meeting in Milwaukee and AAR/SBL in Chicago.

If you are attending any of these conferences and you want to discuss a book project with me or any of my colleagues, or if you just want to grab a coffee or beer email


When is it ever better to use ‘amongst’ rather than ‘among’?

Editors’ Toolbox

These are some of the things we editors keep close at hand, whether on our bookshelves or our computer screens:

  • Our Author Guide – duh! Did you know that we use short-form footnotes throughout a book? No more of those long-form initial notes.
  • Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (also online with purchase of hardcopy; abridged version is free to all!) – this is our go-to dictionary for questions of spelling. Did you know that vegie is an acceptable alternative to veggie?
  • The Chicago Manual of Style 15th and now 16th eds. – our house style is a revised version of the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS). We look to CMOS for help with those things not covered in our author guide. Did you know there are at least 4 ways to list reprints in bibliographies? Also, did you know CMOS suggests using  apostrophe s for all singular possessives, even those ending in s? So, Jesus’s and Moses’s.
  • The SBL Handbook of Style (if you are an SBL member the book is available online for free. There is also a student supplement available online for free) – for issues peculiar to biblical studies and not covered in CMOS, we turn to the SBL Handbook. This book is very helpful for abbreviations of scholarly journals and references, as well as abbreviations for ancient sources. It’s also our arbiter of transliteration questions. Did you know biblical and apocryphal books do not use a period with their abbreviations, but pseudepigraphical, rabbinical, and other ancient sources do? So, Dan (Daniel), but Apoc. Dan. (Apocalypse of Daniel).
  • The Word Book III – we don’t refer to this that often, but it serves well as a spellcheck backup. And when we check for how a word should break across lines, the Word Book tells us how to do it properly.
  • Garner’s Modern American Usage – Garner is actually quite fun to read. He is witty and makes grammar, usage, and style delightful. See his entry for Sesquipedality, which “is the use of big words, literally those that are ‘a foot and a half’ long.” He concludes that there are three legitimate stances for a writer and his/her word usage: 1) if you truly want to communicate, then “build your core of small words”; 2) if you also want to educate, then “use challenging words while allowing the context to reveal their meanings”; and 3) if you are writing for a particular audience with a prodigious vocabulary, then “use hard words that are truly unsimplifiable. But question your motives: are you doing it to express yourself, or are you just showing off?”
  • Google Books – this resource helps in several ways. If we need to check a quotation, doing a search for the quotation will often find the actual source of the quote or a previous book with the quote in it. If we are having a hard time verifying the bibliographic information of an obscure article or book, a search will often point to a previous publication’s bibliography with the information, or on the rare occasion to the actual source in question. We use Google Books to complete bibliographic information all the time.
  • WorldCat – with information from thousands of libraries worldwide, WorldCat is a great place to check for missing bibliographic information. Is the book in a series? What is the publication location? Are their other editions?
  • Library of Congress – the Library of Congress (LOC) website is helpful when constructing the Catalging-in-Publication Data (CIP). For example, did you know that although Ben Witherington publishes with Ben Witherington III on the cover of most of his books, the Library of Congress catalogs him as Witherington, Ben, 1951–, and so this is what we put in the CIP section of the copyright page of the books he publishes with us? We also use LOC to help with the cataloging subjects and call numbers. Authors often ask that we list subjects that we are unable to list because they are not a part of the LOC system. The information we put in the CIP section is supposed to be helpful to libraries. We find that librarians, however, have their own opinions about what subjects and call numbers ought to be assigned to books.
  • Most of us editors have access to institutional online databases by virtue of the fact that we are alumni. For instance, I often use databases available to me through Fuller Theological Seminary’s library in order to track down sources and bibliographic information.
  • We also consult institutions’ online catalogs for book information. For instance, Harvard’s online catalog is a favorite because it’s old and extensive.

An author’s familiarity and use of these tools, especially those that provide bibliographic information, would make our lives a lot easier. There is little that is more exhausting than spending hours cleaning up the lengthy bibliography of an academic monograph.

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