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Writing an assignment

One of the purposes of assignments is to give students practice in good writing, so that they learn to communicate effectively with English. The aim is to write clear prose, which is both accurate and understandable. It is very easy to write ambiguously; such writing fails to make a clear point.

Learning to be clear involves writing complete, grammatical sentences. On the whole, shorter words and sentences are preferable to long ones. The use of unfamiliar words should be avoided, unless essential to the point. It may seem obvious, but many students forget that the aim of writing should be to communicate a message or argument to readers as effectively as possible.

Your essay should be divided into paragraphs, with one major point in each paragraph. Usually the first sentence of the paragraph states this major point, and the following sentences explain it and give evidence as necessary.

Correct spelling and punctuation is crucial for clarity. Commas are particularly important, but it is worth learning the use of colons, semi-colons, and dashes too. For a clear guide on the uses of various punctuation marks, see

Capital letters are often misused. Some people use them too often; others, not enough. The basic rule is to use a capital letter at the beginning of sentences and for names (e.g. Bible, Angela, Mr Brown). All other words are written in lower case (e.g. biblical, angel, brown). Lower case pronouns should be used for God and Jesus (e.g. he, not He). The name of God in the Old Testament should be written with small capitals (Hebrew Yhwh, generally translated ‘the Lord’). This distinguishes it from the word ‘Lord’ which simply begins with a capital letter.

For sub-headings in the assignment, and titles of works in the bibliography, headline-style capitalisation should be used. Generally this means that all words should be capitalised except articles (a, an, the), prepositions (to, from, on, of, at, with), conjunctions (and, but, or, nor, for), and possessive determiners (my, your, etc.). For example:

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Bible, Beaches, and Barbeques
How to Get a Theological Degree without Studying

If you are unsure of how exactly how your heading should be capitalized, you can run it through

Each of the assignment cover sheets on Moodle includes formatting directions for that particular kind of assignment, and Microsoft Word styles have been preloaded into the documents to help you rightly format your assignment.

All typed assignments should be presented with Times New Roman font (or similar Serif font). Use 12-point size for the abstract and main text. Note carefully the use of three font styles:

bold should be used for the title of the assignment and section headings;

italics should be used for foreign words, and titles of books and journals in the bibliography, and may be used sparingly for emphasis;

underlining should be avoided.

If Greek or Hebrew is used, it should normally be written in the original script (not transliterated). This should be done using Unicode formatting. Further direction on using your computer for Greek and Hebrew will be given in the NT Greek class. If you need help with either original languages or styles or your computer, speak to your lecturer.

Parentheses ( ) are used to enclose:

explanations and parenthetical statements;
references to the Bible or other primary sources;
translations of words into another language.

For example:

Eschatology (the study of the last things) has lately become a contested topic.

When God first calls Abraham, he establishes a special relationship with him as he promises him a new land, many descendants, and great blessing (Gen 12:1–3).

The terms “Old Testament” and “New Testament” derive from “old covenant” (παλαιὰ διαθήκη) and “new covenant” (καινὴ διαθήκη).

Square brackets [ ] are generally used to enclose words or phrases which have been added to an original text, to indicate that they are not from the original author. For example:

“He [Nicodemus] came to Jesus by night” (John 3:2, NRSV).

When one or more whole sentences are within parentheses, the final stop should be inside the closing parenthesis; otherwise it is outside.

Gender-inclusive language is common in all modern writing and discourse. Try to avoid masculine nouns and pronouns when writing generically. For example, do not write:

A person is not saved by works; he is saved by grace.

Rather, you could use the plural:

People are not saved by works; they are saved by grace.

Likewise, the use of ‘‘man” as a collective noun should be avoided. Use rather “human beings” or ‘‘the human race.” On the other hand, politically correct innovations such as the use of feminine pronouns for God and artificial words such as “Godself” are not part of common discourse and should be avoided.

Unless an abbreviation is used very often or is very well known, it is generally better to write something in full. If you do use abbreviations, be sure to provide a list of any that the reader may not know. In any case avoid the following abbreviations, which save very little space and do not communicate information effectively:

“f.” and “ff.” (instead, specify the exact range of verses in your reference);

“loc.cit.,” “op.cit.”

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