Zombie Nouns and Verbs: Why Nominalizations and Passives May Be Killing Your Writing

Cannibals eat the flesh of fellow human beings.

And words can eat fellow words.

It depends on how a person strings them together.

How do you prefer to communicate with words: to clarify or to convolute, clutter, and confuse? To reveal or conceal?

That’s why Helen Sword, author of Stylish Academic Writing (Harvard University Press, 2012), refers to one type of words as zombie nouns.

Zombie Nouns: Nominalizations

Watch this five-minute video that Helen Sword narrates (based on her article “Zombie Nouns,” New York Times, July 23, 2012):

So as a general rule, use verbs instead of the related nouns when possible.

For example, [Read more…]

Be More Specific Than “Points” or “Things”

McDill

Speakers and writers often say something like this: “My sermon has three points” or “I’d like to share four things.”

This book taught me not to do that:

Wayne McDill. 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching. 2nd ed. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2006.

I took my first homiletics courses in college in the 1999–2000 school year, and the first edition of this book was one of my main textbooks.

That book has served me well over the last fifteen years. It taught me to use language precisely. [Read more…]

How to Grade Papers

Mark Boda prepared this rubric for grading written assignments:

grading

Grading papers is obviously more subjective than grading multiple choice or true/false, and Boda’s criteria help make the process a little more objective.

tocThe table is from p. 87 of this book:

Stanley E. Porter, ed. Those Who Can, Teach: Teaching as Christian Vocation. McMaster General Series 3. Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2013.

Just because a person earned a PhD doesn’t mean that they can teach well. (Many of us have painful personal anecdotes from our experiences as students!) [Read more…]

MacArthur: “It’s very easy to be hard to understand”

From an interview of John MacArthur on “expository leadership” (watch from 11:45 to 12:35):

The money quote:

It’s very easy to be hard to understand. It only requires that you not know what you’re talking about. And if you don’t know what you’re talking about, nobody else will either.

It’s very hard to be crystal-clear because in order to be crystal-clear you have to have mastered the text. [Read more…]

The 2 Issues I Most Frequently Address When Copy-Editing

In the last eight years or so, I’ve done a fair bit of copy-editing. For example, I’ve edited some books and copy-edited every issue of Themelios since TGC took over that journal in 2008. For the last three years I’ve been editing a massive forthcoming project that will probably be about 1 million words (more on that later).

Here’s my basic philosophy of writing in six words: Omit needless words, and be clear (HT: Strunk, Zinsser, and Williams). There’s a lot more to good writing than that, of course, but it’s hard to communicate well when your writing is cluttered and convoluted.

So I most frequently address two issues when copy-editing: [Read more…]

By nature editors hate error, but by vocation they are called to deal with it daily

I’ve been doing a lot copy-editing over the last seven years. This made me laugh:

By nature editors hate error, but by vocation they are called to deal with it daily. And painfully enough, it is sometimes their own.

Daniel G. Reid, “Commentaries and Commentators from a Publisher’s Perspective,” On the Writing of New Testament Commentaries: Festschrift for Grant R. Osborne on the Occasion of His 70th Birthday (ed. Stanley E. Porter and Eckhard J. Schnabel; Texts and Editions for New Testament Study 8; Leiden: Brill, 2013), 464.

How to Write a Theology Essay

jensenTheology professors may want to assign this new little book as required reading:

Michael P. Jensen. How to Write a Theology Essay. London: Latimer Trust, 2012. 78 pp.

Each of the twenty chapters (titles in bold below) ends with a bullet-point summary:

1. How not to lose heart before you start

  • The topics of theology really matter
  • The knowledge of God is not the preserve of the very clever
  • Starting to write theology is a challenge that can be fun! [Read more…]