The Trajectory of a Scholar’s Vocation

My most recent thoughts on this subject:

1. Read books (published)
2. Read book reviews
3. Write book reviews
4. Write books
5. Read book reviews (of one’s own books)
6. Read books (manuscripts about to be published)
7. Write book endorsements

These days I feel like I am mostly in stages 6 and 7. I hope to get back to stage 4 soon!

4 Responses to “The Trajectory of a Scholar’s Vocation”

  1. John Andrew Kossey says:

    Hello, Michael,

    Would you please comment on your writing process in respect to documenting footnotes and cited works?

    In general terms, what portion of (say) individual articles in journals and essays in festschriften, particularly those that you may quote, might you photocopy? Would a copy editor from the publisher use such materials to confirm the accuracy of the citation? Alternatively, do you give a grad assistant a draft of the article or book manuscript and send her/him to theological libraries to verify footnotes and/or works cited?

    My understanding is that photocopies of articles or small sections of a monograph connected with scholarly writing will usually belong to “fair use” under copyright law. I’m much more interested in understanding how you manage citations and compile your sources thoughtfully in producing effective scholarship.

    Thanks for sharing some of the “know how” of your writing craft.


  2. MJG says:

    Hi, John,

    The first thing I try to do is what I tell my students: read, record, and document very, very carefully. Whether one is writing a paper with 10 resources or a book with hundreds, one needs a system–cards, paper, electronic files, a combination thereof, etc. One cannot assume, even as a professional scholar, that there will be help or time to check every reference or quote at a later time. One has to get it right the first time. Only occasionally have I had a research assistant, editor, or someone else double-check every quotation before it gets into print.

    As for the resources themselves, copying articles and chapters of books falls under the educational fair-use part of the copyright law. I sometimes have my research assistant skim or even summarize articles and books, but that’s only for a first blush. I do all the actual reading, analyzing, extracting, documenting myself. If one has access to electronic resources, either through a theological library or occasionally online, one can get electronic copies and save copying costs and trees.

    I use the first round of online articles, photocopies, and of course books (mine and the library’s) in two phases, normally: (1) reading with brief note-taking on paper and (2) summarizing and quoting as needed in a Word document I call “—- Resources.” The first quote includes either a full bibliographical citation or a clear reference to a source I know well (e.g., Dunn, Theology, 424).

    As I begin the writing process (which may sometimes occur before any or much research), I may put analysis, critique, interaction, etc. with some of the key resources right into the working essay or chapter. (This assumes that I have already drafted an outline of the essay or chapter and am filling it in as I go.) I may also make notes to myself, either in parens or in footnotes, to refer, or possibly refer, to other particular sources that I will want to follow-up on later. (I know other scholars do this, too.) Then at a later time I will “fill in” these lacunae, whether that means simply a reference footnote, an extended footnote, or interaction in the body of the essay or chapter. Again, I try to make sure any quotations and page numbers are 100% accurate, and my footnote reference is either complete or completely self-evident, as in the case of Dunn above.

    I have no idea if that’s what you wanted, but that’s at least part of my “system.”

  3. John Andrew Kossey says:

    Your explanation is exactly what I had requested and needed, Mike.

    One of my shortcomings is not being consistently careful to indicate when a given citation is an exact quotation or my interaction with an author’s statement. Your comments are a compelling case for being careful the first time.

    Thanks again for your thoughtful response.


  4. MJG says:

    My pleasure.

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