SOME TIPS ON WRITING ARTICLES
T. Pierce Brown
Several months ago brother Kearley asked me to write an article about how to write articles. Being so modest I take my glasses off when I look at myself in the mirror, I have hesitated this long. But since neither John Waddy nor Bill Jackson, who seem to write excellent articles for everything that is fit to read, have written anything on it recently, I decided to try. I shall not try to give a review of “A Manual for Writers of Dissertations” which I had when working on my doctorate. I have misplaced it anyway. Nor will I try to give the official guidelines that are sometimes offered by various publications. (However, if you write for any, you should request the guidelines for those particular publications, and abide by them.) I shall simply give some suggestions of some things that I try to do to make my articles more apt to be published and read.
Let me first suggest that many articles are worth reading but not apt to be published because of the failure to do some of the things I shall mention. So the time which it takes to write them is largely wasted because the author is not willing to discipline himself to take some simple precautions.
The things that follow are not listed in order of importance, but only as they occur to me. First, before writing anything for publication, you should try to make sure you have something that needs to be said. If no one would be or do any better after reading what you have written, follow Bacon’s advice. He said, “Readingmaketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man”, so go read and confer some more before you write. (Cf. 1 Peter 3:15).
Second, make an effort to say it in a more effective, gripping (as opposed to “griping”) way than is usual. This is not to try to be “cute”, but simply because if you can not say anything any better than others have already said it, why bother? If reading and conference have not helped the mind any, or made you full or ready, perhaps if you took a few hours off and played golf it would at least do something for the body.
If you are writing articles that have to do with vital themes of Christianity (not like this one), you should be able to find and use scriptures for every principle about which you write. Even in an article like this, you may be able to illustrate or prove your point by suggesting a statement from the Bible (1 Thess.5:21). Your point is ALWAYS better if God made it first!
When you have to differ from the thinking of other great men, strive to do so with becoming modesty. Neither be ashamed or afraid to be different, but do not do so in a negative or arrogant manner. False doctrine and error of any sort must be opposed, but try to assume that the person who expressed it is honest and sincere. The “Golden Rule” is impossible to improve on at this point–or any other (Mt.7:12).
Although some subjects are so complex that they need more space (Cf. 2 Pet. 3:16–in which case you should divide them into the proper number of articles), you should generally try to say what you need to say in two to six pages of double-spaced, typewritten pages. Since I am not the editor, and have no good idea about what comes across his desk, I do not know that the emphasis on “typewritten” is important. But many years ago editors would receive many hand-written documents. I dare say most all of that sort would land in “file 13” today, no matter how well written the material.
For those who have access to a computer, I suggest the following things: If you can possibly do so, get a word processor that will do your formatting automatically, and check your spelling. This article will, with a few key-strokes, be proof read, the title centered and in caps, approximately 2« inches from the top, my name centered, three spaces below the title, my name and address automatically included at the bottom of each page, which will be numbered in proper sequence, printed in NLQ type, with double spacing of lines, hyphenating of words and justifying the margin–all automatically, and programmed to do the same with all articles.
Those who have proof-reading word processors, however, need to realize that one still needs to proof read it personally, for although the spelling of an individual word may be right, it may be the wrong word. If possible, you should have someone else proofread it, for I have discovered that I see what I THINK I wrote, but the other person can see what I actually wrote!
I need to suggest at least one more, though a whole volume could be written if one wanted to really give good and adequate instructions about it.
Do not send the same article at the same time to a dozen publications. I confess that I have done that many times over the past 40 years, for it never entered my mind why I should not. I assumed that whoever got around to publishing it first would do so, and the other editors would then not publish it unless they decided it would be worth publishing twice (as some articles are). But that is not the way it works, and I am sure that I have dozens of articles in the files of some editors that they might have published, but since they have seen so many of them already done in some other journal, they are “gun shy”, for few editors want to publish “second-hand” articles.
This is the way I do it now. I write an article that I want to submit to one paper (like this one). I file it on my computer, on a separate floppy disk, like this: A-S-GA.26. That means Article, Submitted to Gospel Advocate Feb. 6. After I have written it and am ready to send it, before I file it, I put that information on it, because I am also going to cross-file it under some name, like “SomeTips.Art”, on another disk, so it can be found and identified more easily. I will have a separate file (If you do not have a computer, you can do the same basic thing with a file folder) for each publication I write for. All I then need to do when/if the article is published is to check my disk and indicate on my file “A-P-GA.48”, which means “Article, published, Gospel Advocate, April 8 (or whenever). If it is not published in 9 months or so, I will feel free to send it to another publication. By that time I might have learned something (else) about the subject, and will revise it if I choose.
However, I would not dream of trying to “threaten” or demand, “Either you publish my article by (?) date, or I will send it to another!” If I were an editor and did receive a letter like that, the article would immediately be dumped in the wastebasket or returned (the former, unless the author had sent postage and envelope!). As no editor has the right to tell me I cannot write for another publication, I have no right to tell an editor how to run his business! I just feel so honored that the 700 or so articles I have written have been appreciated that if an editor sees fit to publish another, I am grateful. If not, I consider his judgment better than mine concerning what he needs to include.