Writing is taken very seriously at Pacific School of Religion. This introduction to writing at PSR will point out some of the expectations shared by the faculty for student writing, provide some examples and discuss certain matters of importance related to writing at PSR.
Writing is the primary tool of communication in academia. In most of your courses your grade will be based primarily on the professor’s evaluation of what you have written. Beyond the academy writing is an essential tool of the professional world. The effectiveness of church bulletins, grant proposals, letters to the editor and a myriad of other writing tasks will, to a large extent, determine your effectiveness in the professional world whether as a pastor, political activist, teacher or wherever God may call you. Learning to write clearly is important.
Many students come to PSR from successful careers in fields such as law, medicine or business. These students are sometimes surprised to discover that the writing style and rhetoric (way of presenting ideas) used in these various fields does not meet the expectations of the faculty in their course work. Appropriate and effective writing styles vary according to the context and the expectations of the audience. At PSR, the context is academic, more particularly, the humanities. The expectation of the audience (your professors) is based on the style and rhetoric of the humanities. The style guidelines used in the humanities generally and at PSR specifically are found in The Chicago Manual or Kate Turabian’s A Manual for Writers (usually just referred to as “Turabian”). … Turabian has more details than Form and Style by Carole Slade, et al but is harder to use and takes some practice. While Turabian is clearly more thorough, both Turabian and Form and Style are summaries of Chicago; so if you follow either faithfully, you will not run into problems. And therein is the core of the issue: faithfully following a style sheet. Either book will give the details about what your papers should look like (e.g., margins, fonts, layout) and how to use and cite sources properly. All you have to do is look it up.
Style, however, refers to more than just footnotes and page numbering. Style also refers to syntax and punctuation. There are some basics you should keep in mind when writing for PSR professors. First, clarity is more important than beauty. Second, punctuation should be consistent and minimal. Third, sentences should be no longer than necessary. The best and most concise book for guidance on style is still Strunk and White’s Elements of Style (available free online). If you have never read this, you owe yourself the favor as soon as possible. If you have read it, maybe you should read it again. For those who would like something that goes a little deeper, Writing with Style: Conversations on the Art of Writing by John R. Trimble is recommended; or for something more contemporary and a bit more theoretical, Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace by Joseph Williams.
Rhetorically, writing in the humanities is overwhelmingly thesis-based writing. That is, PSR faculty will expect to find in the introduction to your essays a very clear thesis statement (even if it is merely descriptive: “In this essay I will discuss five ways Barth understands ‘Word of God'”). Moreover, thesis-based writing incorporates topic sentences at the beginning of paragraphs that introduce new material. The topic sentences function as an outline, rather like an exoskeleton holding the essay together. A typical topic sentence looks something like this: “The third way Barth understands ‘Word of God’ is as the Bible.” If you are not familiar with thesis based writing, just about any college writing handbook will give you an overview.
While students can find all of the following in Turabian or Form and Style, some of the basics are the following:
- Typeface: Twelve point, Times New Roman (or similar). Not acceptable: Bold type, colored type, larger or smaller fonts (with the possible exception of footnotes which may use ten point type).
- Paragraphs: Indent, double space, justify to the left, do not skip lines between paragraphs.
- Margins: one inch on all sides.
- Page numbering begins on the second page of text and should be placed in a header in the top right corner with the author’s last name: for example, Smith, 7.
- Staple papers at the top left corner. Do not use folders or binders unless the professor specifically asks for it.
Graphically speaking, nothing in the physical appearance of your paper should make it stand out from the others. The professors are looking for evidence of great thinking, not impressive graphics.
Slightly adapted from “Introduction to Writing at Claremont School of Theology”