Preparing material for review and publication

As you may have noticed, I haven’t blogged for a long time. This is because last year I was what a colleague terms ‘underemployed’ – ie the church ran out of money to fund my chaplaincy position and I worked in a range of short term casual research positions whilst looking for something I want to commit to for an extended period. Most of the research I did was related to previous qualifications and I simply didn’t have the mental space to think about the Gospel of Thomas. Three months ago, I started a new chaplaincy position and now am almost at the stage where I can concentrate on something other than learning the lie of the land. Last year, although I made minimal progress on my research, I learned and was reminded about useful things.

I have been editing theses/dissertations for quite a few years, and in the latter part of my undermployment, I was paid to check whether the revised versions of papers submitted as peer reviewed articles for a conference proceedings had satisfactorily addressed the reviewers’ comments and then to edit them for inclusion in a book. This was an eye-opening experience, not the least because by no means all the authors of problematic manuscripts were students!!

It does not matter how brilliant your argument material is, if it is presented with poor formatting, spelling, grammar, punctuation, syntax or general written expression, it is less likely to make a favourable impression.  As a result, I offer the following for students who are preparing articles/papers for peer review and theses/dissertations for examination:

  1. Even if the style guide being used by the publication is, IYNSHO, an abomination unto the Lord (like APA 5 or 6), you still have to follow it if you want to see your paper in print. If you are submitting for a conference and they are desperate for papers, the organisers/editors might send your paper out for review in the wrong format, but they will not reformat it for you for publication and in particular they will not transform your beloved footnote referencing system into in-text references or vice versa. Or even transform your Harvard references into APA. This is at least partly because your paper in its current format does not contain the information they need to do this quickly and they certainly don’t have the time to go looking for it. I would recommend putting all your references into a good bibliographic software program (eg Endnote or Zotero) because you can change referencing styles quickly, easily and far more accurately than you can manually.
  2. Having a PhD, even in Education, does not guarantee that a person has a good grasp of grammar, syntax, punctuation or general good written expression – just that they know a lot about a particular area. It is also not your supervisor’s/advisor’s role to proofread and edit your work, unless his/her name is going on the paper. Even then, s/he may not have good proofreading skills. Thus, the fact that s/he has read it and said it is OK does not mean that it is ready for publication, just that it contains no major errors or idiocies.
  3. If you are enrolled in a good educational institution, they will provide guides on spelling, punctuation and common grammatical mistakes. Read them. If anything in them surprises you, check your manuscript to see that what you have written complies with the information in the guide. If you are writing in English, pay particular attention to how you should use (and not use) “however”, “which” and “that”, commas and apostrophes. If you are writing in another language, there will be equivalent common mistakes.
  4. Note particularly that usage varies between different English speaking countries. If the publication wants you to use American spelling, it will also want you to comply with American grammatical and syntactical conventions. If you did not grow up in the US, this means that some of the things you were taught at school will be considered wrong.  One of my friends did her PhD in the US and she said that for the first six months, she would submit written work to her advisor who would want her to change the grammar and syntax from what she believed to be correct to incorrect usage. It was only when she got a US style manual to replace her Australian one that she realised that she was being asked to change from correct Australian English to correct US and things settled down. If the publication uses British conventions, you are fairly safe if you grew up in Australia and New Zealand (although there are some differences), but if you grew up with US conventions, you will be asked to do things that you were taught were incorrect.
  5. If you grew up in a country that uses English as the lingua franca although it is no-one’s first language, there will be some conventions of usage that are not considered correct in the standard English used by any publications outside your home country, and some vocabulary that has been adopted from the traditional language(s) of your country which will need either to be translated into standard English or explained. This is why Word allows you to select from such a wide variety of versions of English. A proofreader from outside your home country will be able to point these out to you, or you can select the desired version of English from the Word menu, but the latter is not without risks.
  6. Be very careful about using a thesaurus to provide variety in your text if you are not writing in a language in which you are very fluent – you may select an option that is wrong in the context in which you are using it even though it is listed as a synonym.
  7. If you are writing in a language in which you are not extremely proficient, you should try to find someone who speaks it as their first language to proofread your document. Correction: you should try to find someone who speaks it as their first language and has a good track record of writing academic papers in it. If the student in the next room to yours offers to proofread for you, it would be good to find out, tactfully if possible, whether s/he gets consistently high grades or merely passes. If the latter, then your grasp of the grammatical rules of the language is probably better than hers/his.
  8. Remember that the way you speak a particular language or use it to write emails is not necessarily appropriate for publication in an academic forum. Unless you are transcribing the content of an interview, you should avoid colloquialisms and contractions. As one of my early supervisors said, “you can’t use ‘gut feeling’ in an academic paper, even if you have put it in inverted commas”. The academy is currently undergoing a shift in opinion about how appropriate it is to use the first person (ie “I”, “me”, “my”) and active rather than passive voice (“I have shown that” or “the author has shown that” rather than “it has been shown that”). Read material written the last 5 years to get a feel for what is being done in your language and your field. If you are preparing something for a journal, read recent editions of the journal you are targetting. Talk about it with your supervisor/advisor.
  9. The previous point reminds me that one of the differences in convention between British-based and US-based punctuation is how you use single and double inverted commas (quotation marks). I have switched between the two so often now that I can no longer remember which belongs where and I always check the style manual for the publication.
  10. While it is probably wise to remove the bibliographic software codes from your manuscript before you send it off for review (so that there is no risk of the file throwing a hissy fit on another computer and transforming all your citations into field codes eg #239, rather than the author and publication details) you should only do this as the last step, after making sure that you have saved a copy of the file with the codes still intact.

Because this is now a very long post, I will put the points about dealing with reviewers’ comments in another post.

Farewell R McLachlan Wilson

Ealier this week, Jim Davila posted news of the death of Robert (Robin) McLachlan Wilson as the result of a massive stroke that he’d suffered in the previous week. He was ninety-four years old and it appears that until the stroke, he was still active – publishing his last book just before he turned 90.

He was one of the earlier scholars who wrote on GosThom. I have three items by him (other than two book reviews) in my collection:

Wilson, Robert McLachlan (1960a), Studies in the Gospel of Thomas (London: Mowbray).

— (1960b), ‘Thomas and the Growth of the Gospels.’, Harvard Theological Review, 53 (10), 231-50.

— (1960c), ‘Thomas and the Synoptic Gospels’, Expository Times, 72 (11), 36-39.

He wrote lucidly and coherently and I enjoyed reading his work. Rest in Peace

An overview of Perrin’s “Thomas, the Other Gospel”

I recognise that I have started to talk about Nicholas Perrin’s Thomas, the Other Gospel (SPCK, 2007)in a rather piecemeal fashion, which gives a very skewed idea of his subject matter. Since I probably wouldn’t appreciate it if someone did that with my writing, I offer an overview, which probably should have been done first.

The book, which is aimed at what one might call an “educated lay audience” rather than specialists, is in two parts. In the first, he looks at what has been said about GosThom in books by three US scholars, noting what he finds helpful and what he disagrees with. The books are Stephen J Patterson’s The Gospel of Thomas and Jesus (Polebridge Press, 1993), in a chapter entitled “The Thomas Community on the Move”; Elaine Pagels’ Beyond Belief (Random House, 2003) in “The Thomas Community on the Run”; and April DeConick’s Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas (T&T Clark, 2005).

From his reading of these works, he generates six questions, two arising from each book, to which he adds a seventh and in the second part of the book he uses these questions as a framework for addressing what, in his opinion, should be said about GosThom.

The questions he addresses are:

  1. What accounts for the strange sequence of sayings in Thomas? Why do they occur in the order that they do? (Patterson)
  2. How might we explain the ascetical elements in Thomas? What socio-religious movement or movements might account for this renunciation of the world? (Patterson)
  3. Why is Thomas so interested in creational themes, that is, in protology? (Pagels)
  4. Why is the Gospel of Thomas according to Thomas? Why not some other apostle? Furthermore, what does this gospel say about the other apostles and why does it say what it does? (Pagels)
  5. What accounts for the disparate substance of the sayings ? (DeConick)
  6. Why are all these sayings connected with Jesus, when Jesus most certainly did not say at least some of the things attributed to him? (DeConick)
  7. Is there a single setting which can be hyopthesized behind Thomas that answers the above six questions in  a stroke? (Perrin) (p 75)

The answer Perrin offers to his question 7 is yes – he believes that the six questions can be answered if one considers that GosThom orginated in late second century Edessa, where it was originally composed in Syriac and later translated into Greek. He argues that the underlying source is Tatian’s Diatessaron, rather than individual Greek gospels, and that it echoes Tatian’s eschatology and asceticism and that it was composed at one time.

In these things he goes against the mainstream of more contemporary US scholarship which is tending to agree that it was composed in stages, the first one being much earlier than late second century. Most agree to a Syrian origin, but some suggest Greek as the original language. It is interesting that Perrin’s argument for an Edessan origin for Thomas is based on his argument for a Syriac original which is supported by Barbara Ehlers’ (‘Kann das Thomasevangelium aus Edessa Stammen?’, 1970, Novum Testamentum, 12 (3), 284-317) arguments against an Edessan origin that most people there spoke Syriac almost exclusively, so it would have been highly unlikely that a gospel composed in Greek would have originated there!

I agree with Perrin’s assessment that the Jesus in GosThom is a much less Jewish Jesus than is the one that appears in the canon and that the picture it presents is at odds with what we have seen there. This is hardly surprising since the gospel was condemned with enthusiasm by the Church Fathers. I am not so sure about some of his other conclusions.

Is Coptic easier to learn than Latin?

This is one of the strings that got someone to this blog yesterday. I must admit that I only did a term of Latin at school and then tested my friend on her Latin in the train on the way to school for five years, so I am by no means as familiar with Latin as I am with Coptic. I think, though, that I can safely say that Coptic is harder to learn than Latin (assuming English is your first language). It has a different alphabet, more tenses and is more inflected than Latin. OTOH, once you have learned a second language, the next one is not as difficult. It probably also depends on your motivation. If you have a reason for learning a language other than “the curriculum says I must”, then it’s easier to stay motivated.

How they got here

Every so often, when looking at your blog stats, you find a search string that makes absolutely no sense. Yesterday someone got here using:

archive photos of vluyn

Vluyn appears to be a town in Germany just north of Düsseldorf, or at least Neukirchen-Vluyn is. As far as I am aware, I have never mentioned it in this blog until now. I wonder if mentioning it will increase my hit rate? 🙂

Blog tidying

Earlier this week, I came looking for a link that I wanted  and discovered that I had somehow managed to remove my blogroll from the site design. I’ve just re-instated it, removed a couple of links to places that no longer exist, subdivided it and added links to a few of the blogs that I read regularly that don’t have anything specifically to do with my research. I hope to add a few more as time goes on, but right now I need to get back to fun things like the weekend cleaning and writing a job application. 🙂

Women in biblical studies – a strange coincidence

My hard copy of the Spring 2010 issue of JBL arrived in today’s mail. Of the eleven articles in it, three are by women. That’s nearly 30%, a much higher proportion of women authors than the proportion of women bibliobloggers (see JK Gayle’s comment that suggests less than 10% here), but the sample size is quite small.

The first is “Gog’s Grave and the Use and Abuse of Corpses in Ezekiel 39:11-20” by Francesca Stavrakopoulou, from the University of Exeter (UK). The second is “The Gospel of John and the Five Senses” by Dorothy Lee from Trinity College/Melbourne College of Divinity (Australia). The third is my “How Accurate are Eyewitnesses?” and I am from the University of New England (Australia). Thus, nearly 20% of the articles in this edition of JBL are by (ordained) Australian women. This must surely be unusual!