Tag Archives: academic writing


That’s right, cite is today’s word, as in cite your sources properly. Always provide citations, not sightations. The trick with cite is it has homophones. They tend to throw people off their game. Let’s review these tricky sound-alike words.

CITE – the word for today, refers to listing or naming the source of a quotation.

SIGHT – has to do with seeing, and if it is a noun, it could be something that you see, often that is extraordinary. Tourists go see the sights of the place they are visiting.

SITE – has to do with a location in space, or cyberspace. An archeological site is the place people are digging. A website is a location in cyberspace.

To really mess it up, it is possible to cite the site you caught sight of the other day. Or you could sight-see at the archeological site you saw discussed in the article you cited.

One more time:

CITE – make references to books or other sources of information

SIGHT – the ability to see the things around you or (possibly) the things you are looking at around you.

SITE – locations in geographical or cyberspace.

Don’t mix them up.

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Alphabet Soup

About a month ago, I came across an article on the Guardian, “From Alright to Zap: An A-Z of horrible words.” Excellent, I thought. I rather enjoy alphabetical lists, and horrible words are always good for either agreement or outrage. Would the perceptive author include the abomination “impactful” or the over-used “utilize”? I turned to the article with interest. After reading it, I thought the article could be more appropriately described as a reflection on how language, English in particular, changes over time. Words shift in use. Neo-logisms appear. Some of these catch on; others fall by the way. It is a helpful reminder to define terms, particularly when I’m using them in a specific and nuanced way. In fact, this article has inspired me to write an alphabet of my own, a list of words I find troublesome as I do scholarly work. My A entry will appear on Monday, and B-Z will follow on from there. Please feel free to indicate any academic jargon you think should be included in the comments.

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Look, A Book!

It has been a slow December in this space mostly because I’ve been a bit distracted. Here are a few distractions for you while I work on writing a more substantial post.

  1. Misspellings of the year. This is a really good post. I’ve met some of these misspellings, or their ilk, in papers I’ve graded. “If you write like this, how can I pass you?” I want to scream sometimes. My personal favourite misspellings from this list are numbers two and seven, PROZAIC, and IMPECKABLE.
  2. Ice Storm! There was a big ice storm in Toronto last weekend. Some people — I know them — were without power until yesterday. Some are still without power. There are lots of tree branches on the ground. Lots of people had a pioneer Christmas! Guess what we talked about during coffee hour at church this morning? “And how long was your power out?” (For me, four or five days, I’m not sure because I was visiting relatives and it was on before I got back.)
  3. Literary catchphrases. Wonder how that phrase came into common English use? It was probably in a book.

I am working on a post about what it means to be well read, along with reflections on how most bookish online lists appear to be curated by people who are half my age. It might be slightly rant-flavoured. Or not. We’ll see.

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Turgid Prose

Previously in this space I have lamented Turgid Academic Prose. I have found one reason rising academics continue to write with such a pompous bombastic style: profs teach it.

I am reading a book on writing a particular kind of advanced research paper. It advises students that they should be formal and not be overly chummy in their style. I agree. An academic paper is not a blog post or a tweet or a facebook update. The author then quotes paragraphs from two sample research papers which I consider prime examples of Turgid Prose and lauds these as showing proper depth and academic rigour. One paragraph does not show depth or academic rigour. It may suggest that a subject will be treated with such depth and rigour, but it does not have to be dense and unreadable to do so. I throw up my hands in disgust. Why can’t North American academics write? Because they are told that if they write too clearly, they clearly don’t have any Big Ideas. This is so backwards I hardly know how to begin to reverse it. I do the only thing I can: advise my students to write clearly. Writing clearly does not mean you don’t have big ideas. Writing clearly does mean others may benefit from understanding your big ideas.

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Apparently it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert. Really. Go look at the article. I’ve heard 10 years to become an expert, no hours per week attached, but my understanding was ten years of full-time hours. That is more than 10,000 hours, so something is funny somewhere. Whatever, it takes a long time. It also means that many of us aren’t really experts at anything because we don’t do hours and hours of intentional practice at much of anything. Things I’m probably an expert at:

1. Sleeping.

2. Watching TV, even though I grew up without one.

3. Reading fiction, especially mysteries.

4. Teaching.

5. Reading other texts, but I’m not sure that I’ve read enough non-fiction. Though I may have.

6. Writing/editing academic work. Maybe I’ve got close to 10,000 hours on that. Not sure, but I’ve been doing it for more than 10 years so it is likely up there.

How about you? Where is your expertise in the 10,000 hour definition?

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An Internet Reading List

I’ve found some interesting bits on the interwebs this week.

1. A blog post about flow and academic writing. My main issue with this piece is how to get into the “flow” state. I’ve been there, but it has been a while. I’ve been thinking my working environments have been too noisy as late, but I may also be a bit hypersensitive to sound. Maybe.

2. Some notes on boosting creative thinking. I particularly like the point that if one is to use the daydreaming/napping methods of ruminating on something, one must have done some work to have something to chew on. One cannot ruminate without grazing. If one puts an empty pot on the back burner to simmer, one ends up with a scorched pot and a big mess. I think the over-abundance of analogies in this case should now cease.

3. Just in case you hadn’t heard, the internet influences the way our brain works. It is unclear whether this is good or bad. There seem to be both pros and cons for the native digital generation. I wonder how we can help people navigate without their phones? That seems a bad thing. But then, I’m good at directions and finding my way. Others are not.

4. In other brain-related news, Scientific American Mind has a new website and blog. True confessions: I’m sort of an amateur neuroscience junkie. Just in case you hadn’t figured that out from this set of posts.

5. Back to books. I found some really cool photos of poetry using book titles. If you click on nothing else, check this out. It will make you smile and go look for the poetry on your own shelves.


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Further thoughts on Ethics and Academic Publishing

First, some economic realities of academic publishing. University presses tend to lose money or do a little better than break even. They are not money-printing operations. There are probably some exceptions to this generality. Most academics do not make money writing and publishing — it is not worth their time if the only motivation was the money. Academics make money in publishing when they write a very successful textbook.

Second, some personal disclosures. I work in two areas of academic publishing. I write academic books and work in a bookshop that specializes in academic theology books. I am also linked to academic publishing in a third way as I teach, and so assign academic books as textbooks.

The fact that I produce books and receive royalties from their sales (piddling as these royalties may be) probably partially accounts for my strong stance against downloading copyrighted material. I did take a stance agains this before I produced books, realizing that photocopying books (which happened when I was an undergrad back when dinosaurs roamed the earth) or downloading scanned books is illegal. I don’t make copies outside of fair use for my students, didn’t before I was published, don’t now that I am published. I am pretty scrupulous about this. I realize that not everyone is so scrupulous.

Working in retail has given me a different perspective on academic publishing. In the bookshop where I work we give everyone the best price we can. We always discount 20% off the retail price where this is possible. Unfortunately, it is commonly not possible on textbooks because university presses give a short discount to retailers on textbooks. This is irritating to us in the store, and also to students. It seems backward, but see above. Textbooks are the one place university presses have a chance of making enough money to break even or do better. It is that whole captive audience thing. So part of me kind of understands it, though I find it irritating. In my mind, however, this doesn’t justify cranking out editions of very popular textbooks. That seems like pushing a good thing way too far.

So, as a producer and consumer of academic books what can I do? Well, do I want to publish with the Oxford University Press? Should I decline to publish with them because of their questionable ethical practices around the many editions issue, as exemplified in the Ehrman text? Do I avoid using Oxford University Press books as texts in my courses where that is possible? Yes, these are all things I should do. My own personal stance on this won’t change the OUP. But my conscience will feel better.

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Books I’ve gotten for Christmas (so far)

Yes, it is early to receive Christmas presents. Keep in mind, though, that Thursday the 6th was St. Nicholas day and in some places it is traditional to get presents then. We’ve already had the bookshop Christmas party. Since it is a bookshop, we all got (surprise!) books! We also got other silly things such as led lights rings which we promptly tried to turn into light sabres because we’re geeks. But this post is about the books. These are the books I got for Christmas so far, including the ones I bought with the bookshop gift card.

1. How to Write a Sentence by Stanley Fish. So exciting. This is a book about really good sentences and how to write them. Nothing could be more perfect. I’m really looking forward to this one.

2. Jesus and the Victory of God by N.T. Wright. Now the three books (of a projected 5) of Wright’s major  contribution to NT scholarship sit in a row on my shelf. I read The New Testament and the People of God earlier this year. I was going to jump directly to The Resurrection of the Son of God, but the previews for Jesus in TNTatPoG were rather intriguing. So I got it. Hurrah for gift cards. I will read it shortly after Christmas.

3. Rag and Bone: A Journey among the World’s Holy Dead by Peter Manseau. I receive inventory into stock. This came in and looked intriguing. I am looking forward to an interesting read about the saints and their relics.

What is on your Christmas wish list?


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Contributor’s Copy!

Today my contributor’s copy of Handbook of Women Biblical Interpreters edited by Marion Ann Taylor and Agnes Choi came. This makes me very happy. I wrote four articles for this handbook and also have seen the at times painful collecting and editing process from a more behind-the-scenes angle than most. I’ve worked with Marion on other projects, and we’ve talked about the idea of this book a lot while researching women interpreters of the Bible. I’m very pleased to have the fruit of all these discussions and the labour of many in my hand. Just in case you thought putting a book like this together is a simple matter, let me say that the idea came out of a conversation Marion had 12 years ago. Twelve Years. I know that she and I started talking about it 10 years ago. This Is Crazy. It is also called ground-breaking research. This takes time. But it produces results.

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