by Sandra Glahn

1. Read three issues of the journal for which you wish to write so you become familiar with the style. Also, verify that your subject has not recently been covered. Reading back issues will also help you familiarize yourself with the “hot” topics and “comments to avoid” that might detract from your main point. Let’s say the last issue ran a convincing article on why churches should remember the Lord’s Supper weekly. You would want to avoid saying “Of course, you don’t want to practice the Lord’s Supper weekly lest it lose its meaning,” in your article on how to organize a church service. Most of your readers will suddenly become unsympathetic, and you will lose them over a point that was not crucial to your central proposition.

2. Recognize that journal writing is peer journalism, not popular journalism. A theologian may refer to someone’s hamartiology or the doctrine of transubstantiation and use other specific vocabulary considered too technical for publications such as Discipleship Journal or Today’s Christian Woman. This does not excuse you from using complex words (utilize) when simpler language (use) would suffice.

3. Unlike with popular journalism, passive voice is accepted by journal editors, particularly if you use it to “edit out” yourself as the subject. For example, “I received his gift gratefully,” can become, “The gift was received gratefully.” Which leads to the next point. Nevertheless, you can still probably use more active voice than most journal writers use. It’ll improve your writing.

4. Deny thyself. Remove all references to “I, me, my, we, our” unless you are an acknowledged authority in the field. That is, write in the third person unless you are Philip Yancey reviewing a book on how to write well.

5. Do solid research. Seek primary rather than secondary sources. Determine if this journal needs both field and documentary research, and note the difference between broad and narrow research.

6. Provide sufficient documentation. Write down all documentation information at the actual time you do the research or you will spend hours trying to re-trace your steps to an obscure text. Also, note the journal’s style for documentation. Do they use footnotes? Endnotes? Or is APA style sufficient (eg., [Willhite, 1998, p. 3])? Style will vary, but not the demand for documentation. One of your goals in journal writing is to convince researchers of your central proposition. So provide the means for readers to look up primary sources if they wish to further explore your idea.

7. Provide solid structure. The outline is everything in journal writing. The typical article follows this structure (adapted from Christian Magazine Writing): Lead (no more than 10 percent of the entire article), background, anecdotes (data), outline (body), anecdotes (data), conclusion(s).

8. Consult Turabian or Chicago Manual of Style for specific rules of grammar and punctuation.

9. A little humility goes a long way. Are you more sure than right?

10. You can say just about anything as long as you cite an acknowledged authority. The more outlandish the statement, but more credible must be your source.

© 2005, Sandra Glahn