HT: R. Scott Clark
I recently came across Dr. Clark’s helpful article “On The Writing Of Essays.” For those in seminary education, and are looking for a helpful aid to guide you as your write your essays/papers, this will help you get started. To name just a few of his pet peeves. . .
- Please do not use hopefully when you should write, “I hope Hopefully is an adverb, which modifies a verb as in, “She ran hopefully to the shore.” In this sentence, “hopefully” describes the attitude with which she ran. If you mean, “I hope to make this argument clear” please say that rather than, “hopefully, the argument will become clear.”
- Please observe the distinction between who and whom. Who is the relative pronoun for the subject of the verb and whom is the object (either direct, as in the accusative, or indirect, as in the dative). E.g., “Tom saw John who went to the river. John saw Fred whom he had pushed into the river. Fred floated downstream toward his grandfather, to whom he had spoken rudely earlier that day.”
- Please do not use “impact” where you mean “influence.” Cars may impact one another, but ideas, persons, and movements usually have influence, unless they meet on the field of battle.
- Do not write about an “amount of people.” inanimate objects are purchased or occur in amounts. People, however, are numbered. Thus: “A great number of people gathered outside the church carrying a large amount of rice.”
- Do not orphan indented quotations. If an author is worth quoting, he is worth explaining. Few quotations are self-explanatory, so please explain the meaning of the quotation. Therefore, one should not begin a new paragraph following an indented quotation but should exposit the indented quotation.
- Please date and paginate your essay.
- Avoid beginning sentences with conjunctions such as “And” or “But.” If you find yourself doing this, it is probably a clue that the sentence is not actually finished. For example, the two sentences, “Van Til was a brilliant apologist. But he did not write as clearly as we might have wished.” should be, “Van Til was a brilliant apologist, but he did not write as clearly as we might have wished.” If you need an adversative try “however,” as in “Benny Hinn, however, has not repented of his errors.” Please note the postpositive location of “however.”
- Contractions are not appropriate to formal academic writing. Tip: If you use MS Word, set the “writing style” to “formal” (under tools, spelling and grammar). MS Word will highlight contractions and other informalities.
- Do not use online or electronic references (e.g., from a CD) unless the source is not otherwise published. If the work is published in hardcopy, cite that form. A writer should refer the reader to a publicly accessible primary or secondary source. Web sources are ephemeral and may disappear as soon as they are cited. CD based texts
are not always standardized, edited, or consistently available. Google Books provides full access only to books that are in the public domain. This means that if you are using a secondary source via Google Books the scholarship may be outdated. There are exceptions: Archive.org, CCEL, EEBO, and DLCP are good sources for primary texts.
- References to titles and schools (e.g. Dr, Professor, Dean, etc) should be avoided unless they are material to the argument.
Five points from C. S. Lewis on writing essays.
- Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else.
- Always prefer the clean direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.
- Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died” don’t say “Mortality rose.”
- In writing, don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the things you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us the thing is “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers “Please, will you do my job for me.”
- Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.
Taken from, Letter from June 26, 1956, quoted in Wayne Martindale and Jerry Root, eds., The Quotable Lewis (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale, 1989), 623.