—Avoid these common writing mistakes:
• MISSPELLING. Look up suspicious words in a dictionary. Use spell-check on the word processor. Proof-read your work, or better yet persuade somebody else to proof-read your work for you.
• USE OF THE PASSIVE VOICE. The active voice is usually more direct and vigorous than the passive, and the habitual use of the active voice makes for forcible writing.
Example: “It was not long before he was very sorry that he had said what he said” can be effectively changed to “He soon repented his words.”
• USE OF THE FIRST PERSON. Generally avoid use of first person, although “I” is occasionally okay to use if done very sparingly and without editorializing and emotion.
Example: “I was interested in the problem of...” is okay. Generally, however, use the third person.
• FAILURE TO USE PROPER BIBLIOGRAPHIC FORMAT. Follow the Turabian guidelines. Do not give biographic detail in the text to your paper because the citation format gives those details. Be aware that sometimes the sentence construction itself forces you into a citation mode.
Example: “Many studies are too old” or “Research shows that ...”, then you are forced to cite specific studies.
Remember that the Bible is a book and is to be treated as a publication.
• AVOID WORDINESS. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences. This does not require that writers make all sentences short, or avoid all detail, but that every word tell. Many expressions in common use violate this principle, such as “he is a man who” rather than “he,” “this is a subject which” rather than “this subject,” “the fact that he had not succeeded” should be written as “his failure” and “owing to the fact that” should read “since.” Also, the phrases “who is,” “which was,” and the like are often superfluous. A positive statement is more concise than the negative, and the active voice more concise than the passive. Another common violation of conciseness is the presentation of a single complex idea, step by step, in a series of sentences which might, to advantage, be combined into one.
• SPECIFIC WORDS TO AVOID. Avoid unqualified use of the word “cause” because it provokes a philosophical discussion about establishing true cause of anything. Do not use significance or correlation unless these words mean what they mean statistically. Use “study” or “analysis” as alternative terminology to research which sounds like something more glorious than it is. Remember that data is plural.
• AVOID SEXIST LANGUAGE. Man/Woman is at a point in his/her existence where the generic masculine is not to dominate the way one expresses himself/herself. To correct a sentence in which all subjects are male, such as “When a student writes a paper, he must proofread carefully,” make the subject plural: “When students write papers, they must proofread carefully.”
• AVOID USE OF CONTRACTIONS AND ABBREVIATIONS. “Can’t” becomes “cannot,” “mfg.” becomes “manufacturing.” Do not use the ampersand (&).
• IMPROPER QUOTATION. All quotes and borrowed ideas are footnoted. Quotes of more than four lines of running text are indented without quotation marks, single spaced and set off from the text by double spacing.
• AVOID AWKWARD SENTENCES. Sometimes a writer constructs awkward sentence structure because of a typographical error or careless proof-reading. Read your paper out loud to catch awkward phrasing and to make sure your sentences are clear.
• FAILURE TO USE THE POSSESSIVE PROPERLY. Avoid apostrophe abuse. Differentiate between “its” and “it’s,” “you’re” and “your.”
Example: “The book was great; its plot was superb” is correct, not “it’s plot was superb.”
• AVOID INAPPROPRIATE USE OF THE FUTURE TENSE OR OTHER VERBAL FORM. Develop your paper using verbals which convey that the paper is already finished.
Example: “This paper demonstrates” is preferable to “This paper will demonstrate.”
• DO NOT USE AN ORDINARY DICTIONARY TO DEFINE A THEOLOGICAL CONCEPT. Use theological reference works for theological concepts. Treat psychological, philosophical, economic, and political concepts the same way.
• AVOID USE OF FIRST NAMES OF INDIVIDUALS IN THE TEXT OF YOUR PAPER.
Example: “Kathy Marsh” and “Nate Hobbs” becomes “Marsh and Hobbs.”
• AVOID EQUIVOCATING LANGUAGE. Do not over-use such expressions as “seems to be,” “somewhat,” “tends to be,” “oftentimes,” “perhaps,” “maybe,” and “sort of.” An example of such over-use:
“Perhaps there is an occasional tendency for Wheaton students to somewhat affect their dorm life from time to time.”
• PUNCTUATE THE LATIN, ET AL., CORRECTLY. The complete Latin expression is et alters, meaning “and others.” The word alters is abbreviated as al. and therefore requires a period; et is a complete unabbreviated Latin word and does not require a dot.
• FICTIONALIZE REFERENCES TO SPECIFIC INSTITUTIONS.
Example: Wheaton College becomes “a small liberal arts college in the Midwest,” and “Calvary Baptist Church of Binghamton, New York” becomes “an evangelical church in New York State.”
• FAILURE TO ESTABLISH CAUSE. When you seek to establish cause in a paper you must do more than establish chronology. Just because one event preceded another does not establish the cause.
• CITE NUMBERS CORRECTLY. The general rule is that in scientific and statistical material, all numbers are expressed in numerals. In nonscientific material, numbers are sometimes spelled out and sometimes expressed in numerals, according to prescribed conventions. The general rule followed by many writers and by the University of Chicago Press is to spell out all numbers through one hundred and any of the whole numbers followed by hundred, thousand, hundred thousand, million, and so on. For all other numbers, numerals are used.
Examples: At that time the combined population of the three districts was less than four million. There are 514 seniors in
the graduating class.
The general rule applies to ordinal as well as cardinal numbers.
Example: On the 122nd and 123rd days of his recovery, he received his eighteenth and nineteenth letters from home.
The general rule must be modified when numbers above and below one hundred appear in a series, or group, applying to the
same kind of thing. Here all are expressed in numerals:
Of the group surveyed, 186 students had studied French, 142 had studied Spanish, and 36 had studied Latin for three
years or more.
SEE TURABIAN FOR ADDITIONAL WRITING AND STYLE GUIDELINES FOR BIBLIOGRAPHIC ENTRIES.