by Dr. David Skorupa, Seminar Instructor
We're happy to share this list of 14 "best practices" that may be helpful as you write papers and reports.
Not every item may apply to you personally, but a few will prove to be of assistance. We have students from many countries, speaking many languages - if some of these instructions seem rudimentary, please recognize the needs of our international student body.
We want your work as a student with Newburgh Theological Seminary and College of the Bible to produce ever-increasing knowledge for your ministry to the Church. I suggest you print this message and keep it nearby as you produce papers and reports as a Newburgh student.
1. Basic requirements for your reports and papers
There are some basic paper writing requirements set forth for your degree, which you can conveniently find here at our Newburgh Theological Seminary and College of the Bible website under the Degree Programs tab.
Find our web page related to your degree program, read the requirements for papers, and print them out so you can have them for convenient review as you complete your assignment.
In addition to the website instructions, we encourage students to use a title page for each assignment.
A good title page contains:
1. The course number of the text (you can find this on your degree program page)
2. The full title of the text
3. The name of the text's author(s)
4. The name of the text's publisher and the year the book was published (found within the first few pages)
5. Your name
6. The name of the degree you are seeking at Newburgh Theological Seminary and College of the Bible
7. The fact that the paper is prepared for Newburgh Theological Seminary and College of the Bible
8. The date you are submitting the paper for grading
Most title pages have each item on an individual line, with spaces between lines, and all lines set alignment-centered on the page. Title pages do not count as part of a paper's minimum length requirements.
2. Formats for submission
It is always best to submit your report in Microsoft Word compatible formats whenever possible, using a common 11 or 12 pt. type (Times New Roman is a good choice. Choosing unusual fonts causes problems when your grader does not have the font on his computer). Double-space lines. Using a larger type size to artificially inflate the length of a paper is frowned upon, and can result in having your paper returned without a grade or receiving a lower grade. Do not set your entire paper in boldface type. Send your report in as one, single document. Do not send in multiple documents for a single assignment.
3. Common seminary capitalization questions
Capitalize the word Bible when it refers to the Word of God. Also capitalize the words Old Testament, New Testament and the various books of the Bible (such as I Corinthians). Capitalize the word Trinity when it refers to God. Capitalize Father, Son and Holy Spirit when referring to the Three Persons of the Trinity. Out of reverence many students choose to capitalize Him, His, He and other pronouns when they refer to God, and of course this is acceptable, but take care to capitalize these words consistently throughout your paper.
Capitalize the word church when it refers to the complete number of truly saved individuals in Jesus Christ throughout history, often referred to as the Church Universal or the True Church. Also capitalize the word when it is part of a proper name such as Hillside Church or in the proper name of an established denomination, such as Church of God in Christ. When the word is used generally to refer to one or more local churches use the lowercase spelling of the word.
Examples: We’re attending worship services at church next Sunday. The visiting preacher’s lecture is on the subject of Christ’s sacrifice for the Church. The speaker will preach at Hillside Church next week. He’ll speak at other local churches before returning to seminary next month.
Capitalize the word pastor when used as a title preceding a name. Do not capitalize when the word is used as a description following the name, or as a word describing a general position.
Examples: We also enjoyed Pastor Smith’s comments. Smith serves as pastor for Hillside Church. He leads a monthly devotional time for pastors in our region.
4. Common quotation marks usage
In American English, when ending a quotation you commonly first place the period which ends the sentence, then the closing quotation mark. See William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White's The Elements of Style or www.grammarbook.com for more details. The same order holds true for partial sentences being quoted and ending with commas, colons, semicolons, etc. Most often, you will first place the punctuation mark, then place the closing quotation mark. There are some minor exceptions.
5. Proofreading and self-correcting
I always encourage the student to perform good proofreading and self-correcting before sending in a paper for a grade. Some of our students are better at this than others - but proofreading is a very important step. It's better to delay a paper for one or two days for good proofreading than to rush it in with careless errors! This is true with academic papers, and with normal ministry items like church bulletins and published orders of Sunday morning service.
If writing and grammar are not your best subjects, you may wish to ask a trusted friend with a strong academic background to help you with your proofreading. Do not look at asking for help as a sign of weakness - rather, look at it as allowing the Lord to use others to help you in your ministry progress.
6. Grammar helps at no cost
From time to time, even the best writer and/or grammar student needs a resource guide for help with things like using apostrophes or quotation marks properly. I suggest all our students add www.grammarbook.com to their internet bookmarks for when that time arises. This is a free online resource to help answer challenging grammar questions. There are many free grammar guides available online, feel free to use them when writing a paper.
It is advisable to purchase a copy of The Turabian Style Manual for writing papers at the Ph.D. or Th.D. program levels. You can also purchase a copy of William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White's Elements of Style, (not a requirement, merely a suggestion) for less than $10.00 in paperback form in most chain bookstores or college bookstores.
7. Bad habits to avoid:
1. When writing academic papers, do not refer to the author by his first name only. Use his first and last name when you refer to him for the first time in your paper, and then his last name only throughout the rest of the paper.
2. Do not copy directly from the textbook without making it clear you are quoting from the text. This is a very serious issue.
3. Do not share your personal thoughts, experiences or additional insights instead of reviewing the chapter for your report. First show you have read and understood the material, then share your thoughts, experiences and additional insights to what you have read and understood. This can be a struggle for students who are also preaching weekly: The skillful retelling of personal experiences and stories from history, so extremely useful in the pulpit, can actually become a distraction when writing summary papers for seminary.
8. Quoting the author in your paper
I encourage students to consider providing some quotes from the author in each paper. While not essential to paper writing or your grade, it is helpful because authors often best summarize their own thoughts on a given subject, especially near the end of chapters. When you do choose to quote from the author, be sure you are using quotation marks correctly and please provide the page number from which the quote is taken.
Quoting can be accomplished by simply following this format:
Billings, in his book The Deliberate Church, summarizes his feelings on the matter when he reports that "knowing Christ as Lord and Savior should change the way we look at people around us" (p. 25).
9. Show your work in chapter-by-chapter form when appropriate
Some degree programs advise students to review the text in chapter-by-chapter manner. This is a wise way for any student to review any textbook. When doing so, break your paper into reviews of each chapter, using the chapter titles as headings as you go.
Provide quotation marks and page number references when quoting directly from the author. This shows your grader that you are not "skipping over" a chapter as you present your assignment, and that you are not simply copying words out of the textbook to fill up the required length of your report.
10. Clearly distinguish the author’s thoughts from your thoughts and/or thoughts from other sources
When writing academic papers, it is important to distinguish which thoughts belong to the text’s author, which thoughts belong to you, the student, and which thoughts come from other sources. This is easily accomplished by using the style below:
In this chapter, the author states we must always love our local church despite its flaws and imperfections. I agree, but would like to add that times can come when such flaws and imperfections grow so deep that false doctrines about Christ exist. This leaves no recourse other than separation, as seen during the Reformation. This exception is clarified in the pamphlet "Ichabod's Legacy" by Rev. Bill Jonesboro of Augusta GA, who also preached in April of 2007 that "the only way to help a church where the Spirit is no longer present because of years of false teaching is to leave it."
11. Provide book, chapter and verse references, and note which Bible translation is quoted
Nearly every paper written for Newburgh Theological Seminary and College of the Bible will contain references to Scripture. When quoting from the Bible, please provide book, chapter and verse references. Also, with the wide array of translations and paraphrases in today’s marketplace, it is important to let your grader/professor know which version of the Bible you are using.
This is accomplished early in your paper simply by inserting a line which states, as an example: “All Bible references in this paper come from the King James Version of the Bible, except where clearly noted by the student.”
We suggest our students use translations rather than paraphrases for their primary Bible, and for the purposes of writing papers. Usually, one can discover if their Bible is a translation or paraphrase by looking over its first few pages. Paraphrase versions of the Bible (such as The Message) have their useful place as sources of additional comment, but please use actual translations for your primary Scripture references.
12. Using B.C. and A.D. correctly (and understanding B.C.E. and C.E.)
Always use capital letters when writing B.C. and A.D. The correct way of writing years with B.C. and A.D. is to put A.D. in front of the date and B.C. after it.
The eruption of Mount Vesuvius took place in A.D. 79.
The murder of Julius Caesar took place in 44 B.C.
Now that communication between the various cultures of the world is becoming more commonplace, some writers think a dating system based on one particular religious view is no longer appropriate. They have adopted the notations B.C.E. and C.E., which stand for "before common era" and "common era." However, in seminary we are very comfortable using B.C. and A.D., as these notations honor the history-changing existence of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Some students have shown offense to the notations B.C.E. and C.E. when they encounter them in textbooks. They are not obliged to use them (outside of quoting directly from the text material).
13. Do you desire to review a text, but it isn’t on your degree list? Be sure it is approved by your Newburgh Theological Seminary & College of the Bible advisors before you start.
Newburgh Seminary will consider accepting a review of a text that is not on your degree list, but before you start your report work, be certain the book has been cleared by our advisory committee.
Visit http://www.newburghseminary.com/textbook_alternate.html for a form with details as to going about this process. When submitting a paper on one of these “elective” texts, help minimize potential confusion by indicating which Newburgh staff member approved the textbook as an elective, and the date the book was approved.
14. Some other helpful best practices: Footers and page numbers
I encourage students using Microsoft Word to use thefooter setting to place their name, degree and text title at the bottom of each page, in small (7 pt. is fine) type. This is not a requirement, but it is a good practice. Making sure pages are numbered is another good practice. Remember, your papers represent your approach to your seminary studies – a neat and well-organized paper demonstrates you take your studies seriously.
Remember, it's all about learning, and applying what you learn to ministry!
I hope these suggestions are of some use, and that you will take them to heart to strengthen your presentation of papers with Newburgh Theological Seminary and College of the Bible. Earning a degree from a seminary is a tremendous undertaking, and since you will be using your knowledge to impact people for Christ, it deserves the best effort you can provide. If our Newburgh staff can be of any help to you, please do not hesitate to call on us. We're here to help you succeed and accomplish mighty things for the Kingdom of God!
(This list updated on September 25, 2010)