What Are Your Worst Writing Peeves?

Adrian asks What Are Your Worst Writing Peeves?

I responded with a couple on facebook but it got me thinking so here are some results (these are not aimed at Adrian's book as I have not seen it). Note that these thoughts relate particularly to theology but may relate to other technical subjects:

Format:

  • Please, please, please do not use end notes (either end of chapter or end of book), instead use footnotes at the bottom of every page. I do not mind if these take up a lot of space, but they are a total waste at the end of the chapter or book as I am unlikely to keep looking them up.
  • Provide an index. No, provide several indexes. Subject, name and scripture reference are the most useful. If you think your book does not need an index then I am going to think it is not worth reading and definitely not worth giving any precious shelf (or floor) space to.
  • Do not go for a large format unless there is a really, really, really good reason (there are very few). It is a pain to store, carry and read. It does not mean it will end up on a coffee table but instead will be hidden away from all the useful books in a corner reserved for awkward books.
  • A bibliography is important. I hate academic referencing of my own writing and don't care about formal academic references in your books. But it is important to be pointed to books on the subject that you disagree with (I want to know you have read them and engaged with them). Consider a more chatty presentation of the bibliography eg maybe "X contains an excellent presentation of view Y which I argue against in chapter Z".

Content:

First the negative:

  • Do not assume I am an idiot.
  • Do not assume I agree with you.
  • Do not ignore or dismiss those who disagree with you.
  • Do not try to ignore alternative views and arguments against your position
  • Do not bully.

There are excellent examples of these five. See Wayne Grudem (Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth) or Pierced for our transgressions (Steve Jeffery, Mike Ovey and Andrew Sach) for two classic examples.

  • Do not ignore history or context
  • Do not think I will ignore integrity (obvious example do not write about poverty from your multi-million $ home)
  • Do not try to hide where you stand in the Christian community. Do not pretend that a position that redefines basic Christian doctrines or beliefs is mainstream.
  • Do not mis-use scripture (see 42: PFOT: The Foreword by John Piper and 42: PFOT: The Foreword part 2 which walks through an example).

Now the positive:

  • Connect both with your tradition and with others in fair ways. Brian McClaren does this well in "A generous Orthodoxy (in a sense the whole purpose of that book).
  • Connect me with the Living God, with a Jesus who matters to the world and to me. Shane Claiborne does this well in "The Irresistable Revolution".
  • Find a writing style that is not too lightweight but is not turgid. You can only get away with a really heavy writing style if you are going to captivate and change me as Moltmann does in "The Crucified God" – few people can manage that (and are they all German?)
  • Really nail your arguments in a helpful sumamry. Denny Weaver does an excellent job in "The Non-Violent Atonement" except that he does not present his model (Narrative Christus Victor) with a useful sumamry, one you can remember and say to people "Narrative Christus Victor is …"

That is enough for now.

6 thoughts on “What Are Your Worst Writing Peeves?

  1. Dave Warnock

    Josh,
    Agreed, hopefully established authors have some influence. In an ideal world publishers would listen to readers as well :-) I mean have you met anyone who prefers to lookup end notes?

    Reply
  2. dave bish

    Really good points – large format also puts the price up which is annoying.
    I’m so so so with you on footnotes over endnotes, and plentiful indexing. Endnotes is just wierd and not indexing has to be publishing laziness.
    I’m genuinely not picking I fight but I wondered if you think there is anyone in the Piper/Sach/Jeffery/Ovey etc kind of theology who you think writes well by the very good standards you’re suggesting?

    Reply
  3. Dave Warnock

    Dave,
    From a format point of view John Piper’s “God is the gospel” scores quite well (pity it is hardback). It has footnotes, is small and has indexes. I have not read it enough to comment fairly on the content.
    Wayne Grudem’s book “Evangelical Feminism & Biblical Truth” also scores highly on the format with footnotes, indexes, paperback, size all being good. Pity about the content which makes it possibly my least favourite or respected book ever :-)
    In both cases the writing style is accessible and they are fairly readable which I suppose is part of the reason for their success. I do find that their tone comes over to me in a rather bullying way. The “there can be no other view but what I express here”. I dislike that a lot, it appears to me arrogant and disrespectful. It feels as if the reader is supposed to be a small child being told what to believe.

    Reply
  4. dave bish

    There’s a difference between confidence about something and a bully-tone. The former is fine – I like to be able to disagree with a book and scribble in the margins… but writing as if there are no other views is just ignorant really!

    Reply
  5. Dave Warnock

    DaveB,
    “There’s a difference between confidence about something and a bully-tone.”
    I suspect we are all more likely to find a tone confident rather than bullying if we agree with a book.
    I find these issues far more of a problem in “populist” books. Sadly many academic books have poor readability.

    Reply

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