Title portion of the SBL Handbook of Style cover, 2nd edition

Authorities for SBL Style: School House Style

We’ve previously started exploring authorities for SBL style by discussing publishers’ house styles. A publisher’s house style might be based on SBLHS, but it might also require several things that differ from the SBLHS and other authorities. It isn’t spelled out in the SBLHS, but there’s another application of this principle if you’re a student submitting work for class.

1.2. From Your School

That is, if your institution has particular style guidelines, you should follow these before anything else in the SBLHS. SBL Press won’t be grading your seminar paper, your professor will.

1.2.1. A Case Study: Footnote Numbers

For example, at the Kearley Graduate School of Theology (KGST), we tend to ask for a pretty “plain vanilla” application of SBL style with very minimal changes. We’re also pretty committed to Microsoft’s DOCX standard. So one place where we suggest something different from the SBLHS and other authorities is in formatting footnote numbers. The SBLHS Standard versus the Microsoft Word Default

If you read carefully, the SBLHS asks for full-height footnote numbers. Then you add a period (thus: “1.”), then a space, then the content of your footnote. (In this, the SBLHS follows like the Chicago Manual, which we’ll discuss in a separate post.) But Microsoft Word’s default way of producing footnotes is with a superscripted note number (thus: “1”), followed by a space, followed by the content of your footnote. Getting Full-height Footnote Numbers with Following Periods in Microsoft Word

It is technically possible to get Microsoft Word to produce full-height footnote numbers, followed by a period. But it isn’t nearly as easy as you might hope.

Formatting footnote numbers this way in Microsoft Word requires some special manipulation. You can manually correct the note number formatting, use a macro, or do some other similar operation. Any of these workflows is doable if you need to produce full-height note numbers followed by periods. But each of them does require a good bit of extra effort. KGST’s Solution

Consequently, we simply haven’t seen the point in requiring what is technically most consistent with the SBLHS and other authorities. The effort required to produce this output vastly exceeds the formatting benefits it yields.

So for KGST’s purposes, if you want to use full height footnote numbers, you can. A few students do just that, and that’s certainly not wrong.

But we give you the option of deciding simply to go with Word’s superscripted default. And unless you just enjoy the satisfaction of seeing a full-height footnote number, followed by a period, I usually recommend my students focus on their content rather than this optional formatting extra.

1.2.2. A Suggestion: Learning SBL Style Together

Different institutions have different dynamics. And different faculty (or graders) have different relationships with students. So you’ll need to weigh how this suggestion applies in your context.

But generally, those of us charged with assessing how well SBL style has been applied haven’t ourselves gone to school for copyediting, completely memorized the SBLHS, or taken second jobs with SBL Press to learn the style on the job.

Instead, we’re practitioners who have used the style in order to learn it. And sometimes, you might see something that we miss.

There have been many times when a careful student has asked a question about SBL style that I end up learning something from. Rereading the SBLHS or other authorities in light of that question shows me something that I’d missed or assumed previously.

So if you’re charged with assessing SBL style, be open to learning more about the style from those whose work you assess. You might learn something that will be helpful in your own writing or other assessments down the road.

On the other hand, if you’re a student and are seeing something different after some diligent consideration, think about asking a question if and as that’s appropriate for your context. Don’t try to play the “gotcha” game or the “please do my homework for me” game. But an academic environment can provide a wonderful setting for students and faculty to learn SBL style together.


In the end, whether you’re writing for your school or for a particular publisher, you need to be aware of style guidelines you need to follow that might differ from a “plain vanilla” reading of the SBLHS. Doing so will help your work square with the expectations of your professors or graders who will be evaluating it.

There are also countless ways we can help each other learn SBL style, whatever our status, be that faculty, teaching assistant, or student. And with as much of a formatting standard as the SBLHS has become, learning it well is a key way to “sharpen the saw,” as it is with learning other house styles that we may need to abide by.

What departures from the SBLHS does your school require? What have you learned from your students or classmates about SBL style?

Header image credit: SBL Press

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