The Ultimate Open Online Research Library for Biblical Studies

The Internet is a massive library. On it, there’s a huge number of resources useful for your work in biblical studies and legitimately available.

But it can sometimes be hard to find what you need because there’s simply so much there. And while you need to do your own researchyou don’t have to search on your own.

This open online library guide already contains more than 400 resources that are pertinent to work in biblical studies, and I’m continuing to add more.

That way, you have a ready reference for them that you can use to find what you need quickly—not spend hours searching again for things I’ve already come across.

How to Cite Individually Paginated Journal Articles with Zotero

Several good online journals that publish articles electronically only.1 And sometimes such journals paginate their articles separately from each other (i.e., each numbering their first page as “1”), rather than running the pagination continuously through a given issue (or volume).

What SBL Style Requires

A couple examples are HTS Teologiese Studies and Scriptura (at least in recent volumes). And SBL Press has clarified that their preferred way to have these kinds of articles cited is as follows

[Author name], “[Title],” [Journal] [Journal volume] ([Journal volume year]): art. [Article number in the journal volume], [“p.” or “pp.” according to whether one or multiple pages is cited] [Page number], [Full DOI URL as a live link].2

The bibliography format then makes the usual changes for a journal article and includes “pp.” with the total page range for the article. Thus, one example of an initial footnote would be

1. Ntozakhe Simon Cezula, “Waiting for the Lord: The Fulfilment of the Promise of Land in the Old Testament as a Source of Hope,” Scr.(S) 116 (2017): art. 3, p. 13,

Subsequent references are constructed in the same way as they would be for any other journal article. Thus, you would have

3. Cezula, “Waiting for the Lord,” 10–11.

And the corresponding bibliography entry would be

Cezula, Ntozakhe Simon. “Waiting for the Lord: The Fulfilment of the Promise of Land in the Old Testament as a Source of Hope.” Scr.(S) 116 (2017): art. 3, pp. 1–15.

An Open Question about What SBL Style Requires

In the process of reviewing how best to accommodate this citation pattern with software like Zotero, Denis Maier noted some inconsistency between SBL Press’s two posts on the topic.3

In particular, SBL Press’s discussion of HTS

  • gives “doi: ” rather than “” and
  • omits the full page range from its sample bibliography entry for Christo Lombaard’s essay on theological education.4

I’ve posted a comment to SBL Press on their HTS post to ask for clarification about the page range omission in the bibliography. But in the meantime, there are three reasons it seems best to with the citation pattern described in the more general “Electronic Journals” post—namely, that this post

  1. Is more general than the HTS-specific post and describes a pattern of citation for sources that would include HTS and others.
  2. Appeared after the HTS-specific post (3 May 2018 versus 9 August 2016). It, therefore, represents more current guidance about the press’s style. This situation then becomes similar to the relationship that the SBL Handbook of Style blog overall has toward the SBL Handbook of Style itself.
  3. Explicitly says that “to bring SBLHS into greater conformity with CMS in the formatting of DOIs, SBL Press now prefers including the full URL (i.e., with https://), not just the DOI proper.”5

This last comment explicitly settles the DOI format issue question over against the recommendation of the HTS-specific post. This explicit relationship between the two posts on this issue suggests that it’s most likely they have the same relationship, albeit implicitly, on the issue of whether or not to include a full article page range in the bibliography entry. But that question does remain somewhat open pending the press’s further confirmation.

How to Get What SBL Style Requires

Assuming that this is a proper reading of what SBL style requires for individually paginated electronic journal articles, this citation format has some notable oddities and departures from what’s otherwise typical for journal articles.

Even so, Zotero can still produce the correct citation format if you have the current version of the SBL style (2nd ed.) installed from the repository. And once you have the style installed from there, you’ll automatically get future updates as they become available.

(If you haven’t already installed the style from the repository, click here to drop in your email. And I’ll send you the direct link to the repository’s entry for this style, along with several others you might find useful.)

When you come to correcting the Zotero record for this kind of article, the key point is to drop the number variable in the Extra field along with the article’s placement in the sequence of its issue or volume. Everything else, you’d enter as you usually would, being careful to include the DOI (or, if that’s not available, a URL) since you’re dealing with a specifically electronic source.6

So, for instance, if the article you’re citing is the third in its sequence, you’d enter into the Extra field number: 3. That variable will allow the SBL style for Zotero to trigger the proper citation format for your article.

You can also use the same process to set Zotero up to cite articles that aren’t segmented by pages. For example, articles from early issues of TC were released and are still only available as webpages.

With these articles, however, you’d obviously need to leave blank the “Pages” field in your Zotero record. But you can choose the paragraph locator type in the citation dialog to get ¶ or ¶¶ as appropriate. Thus, you might have

1. Richard D. Weis, “Biblia Hebraica Quinta and the Making of Critical Editions of the Hebrew Bible,” TC 7 (2002): art. 6, ¶45,

3. Weis, “Critical Editions,” ¶¶37–40.

And in your bibliography, you would have

Weis, Richard D. “Biblia Hebraica Quinta and the Making of Critical Editions of the Hebrew Bible.” TC 7 (2002): art. 6, n.p.


SBL style is reasonably complex anyway. And it involves still more variation if you’re using individually paginated articles from electronic journals. But even in this case, Zotero can handle the citation work and, by taking that of your plate, free you up to focus on writing new material.

  1. Header image provided by Pereanu Sebastian

  2. SBL Press, “Electronic Journals with Individually Paginated Articles,” weblog, SBL Handbook of Style, 3 May 2018. 

  3. “Update Society-of-Biblical-Literature-Fullnote-Bibliography.Csl by Dstark · Pull Request #6157 · Citation-Style-Language/Styles,” GitHub, n.d. 

  4. SBL Press, “HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies,” weblog, SBL Handbook of Style, 9 August 2016. 

  5. SBL Press, “Electronic Journals.” 

  6. Thanks are due to Brenton Wiernik for this idea. 

Why You Need to Get Time Away during the Holidays

Over the next couple weeks, the year is going to come to a close.1 As it does so, you may have any number of loose ends. Some of them you’ll need or want to tie up in the coming days. Others you might put off for a bit.

But there’s more to life than your current work demands, your next project, or that last assignment that needs attention before the semester closes.

There’s More to Your Craft than Academic Work

Honing your craft as a biblical scholar goes beyond effectiveness in these domains. It also means getting better at integrating other life domains that are just as or more important.

That’s easy to overlook, but it’s hugely significant in the long term. It’s what makes the difference between a life that only has academic results and one that’s rich and full in every domain across the spectrum.

You’re a whole person with a multifaceted life—and those multiple facets are part of what make life rich. So, a core skill you need to hone is how you live as an academic in order to integrate the domains of your life that stretch beyond the academy.

But in academic life, it’s all too easy to continue pressing ahead and leaning forward into what’s coming next. And for that reason, unplugging from that work to invest yourself fully elsewhere takes skill too.

Being away is a part of academic life, and it’s a part worth doing well.

Setting Aside Academic Work Requires Skill Too

You might find other ways of approaching and enjoying time away too, but 8 steps that will give you a great start. To summarize, these are to

  1. Recognize there’s more to life than work.
  2. Start planning early. But if you find yourself a bit behind on your end of the year plans, just begin from you are.
  3. Clarify how long you’ll be away and what you’ll be away from. As you do so, especially involve your spouse in this discussion and, as appropriate, your kids.
  4. Identify stakeholders who may need something from you while you’re away.
  5. Communicate with any stakeholders who might need something from you while you’re away, and address their needs ahead of time. Where this might not be feasible, try to negotiate a timeline for completing that request long enough after you’re back so that you don’t have to sacrifice your time away.
  6. Plan for your time away. You probably shouldn’t try to time block Thanksgiving day or Christmas morning. But you don’t want to unplug without any plans so suddenly that it takes time away that you should be enjoying just to get your head out of “productive biblical scholar mode.”
  7. Set an email autoresponder.
  8. Keep your commitment to being away. Don’t be overly ready to “just check” or “only do a little of.” It can wait. And if something comes up that genuinely can’t, negotiate with those it will affect when and how you’ll address that unexpected, pressing concern.


Just like other parts of the craft of biblical scholarship, your ability to unplug from academics and focus on other life domains is also something you can hone over time.

Do it a few times with intention, and you’ll notice yourself gradually getting better at being not just whatever your school or work demands require, but also someone who lives a full life as a whole person.

  1. Header image provided by Jude Beck. 

How to Have Your Best Academic Conference

Every year, the week before Thanksgiving week sees several major conferences for biblical studies and related disciplines.1 Not the least of these is the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature.

Especially given the scale of SBL, it can be a challenging meeting to navigate well. And now atop that usual challenge are all the additional factors that go along with having a meeting that’s designed to be both in-person and online. This dual mode has some definite upsides. In particular, some of it’s online sessions have been scheduled at times convenient for other parts of the world besides just the time zone for the annual meeting location.

That said, this first run at a dual-mode meeting also presents special challenges. Among these are how, by definition, we’re very much still all re-learning as we go to varying degrees—as has been a common thread the past few years.

13 Tips to Have Your Best Academic Conference

Some of what it means to do the conference well will be the same whether you’re attending in person or online or some of both. Other practices will depend on that mode or mixture in which you’re attending. But however that is, the following tips can help make your conference the best it can be.

Whether You’re Attending Online or in Person

Some practices will dramatically improve your conference experience, whether you’re attending online or in person.

1. Plan in advance what sessions you will attend and when you’ll have other meetings.

At just about any conference—and especially at the larger ones—there’s always too much to take it all in. And just because you can fit a session into your schedule doesn’t mean you should.

Instead, be choosey. Use the conference program or planner to find the sessions most pertinent for you. Don’t worry, you’ll still have plenty to do.

But by being choosey about the sessions you attend, you’ll be able to go all in on the few that most align with your interests.

In addition, an academic conference offers a great opportunity to connect or reconnect with others. Simply by virtue of attending, everyone who is attending is somewhat out of their usual day-to-day routines.

So, during the general time frame of the conference can be a great time to catch up, collaborate on current projects, or pitch new ideas.

2. Come to learn, and come to contribute.

Whether you’re giving a paper or listening to one, come to learn and contribute.

Come to learn from the presenters about their work and contribute to the discussion of it. Or come to contribute to and learn from the audience about yours.

In addition, if you come to learn and contribute rather than to impress, you’re likely to do more of both while also lessening the time you’ll spend faced with imposter syndrome.

Particularly if you’re attending a session, recognize that “contributing” doesn’t mean being the know-it-all who “asks a question” that turns into a monologue that scarcely leaves the presenter time to respond or others in the audience time to ask their questions. It means asking a question or making a comment that

  • might help the presenter refine his or her argument or
  • highlights a topic you’d genuinely like to hear more about.

And “hearing more about” it means that you’re hearing while the presenter is talking. If you want to have a fuller conversation, ask or try to catch the presenter after the session.

But even there, recognize that good academic interchange isn’t about strutting or “winning” while someone else “loses.” It’s about cooperative creativity where, even if differences remain (as they likely will), both sides walk away with something gained.2

3. Focus on the sessions you attend.

Nowadays, it doesn’t take attending many academic conference sessions in person before you notice something. During the session, some portion of the audience will be focused on … their email, Facebook, Twitter, the program book, or really anything besides the session they’re physically attending.

Maybe, they’re “multitasking.” But even if they are, studies show they’re not really paying attention.

I’ve been guilty of this practice in the past too, particularly later in a conference when sleep deprivation has tended to set in. But while this kind of distraction help with staying awake, getting adequate sleep is a much better approach that will also help you pay closer attention to the sessions you choose to attend.

What Multitasking Means

As you “multitask” between two or more increasingly complex tasks, your ability to track with either at the same pace drops precipitously. You’ll typically need to elongate the time you spend on the multiple tasks you tried to bundle.3

By contrast, habitual tasks that require very little attention can be more successfully combined with other tasks that require more attention (e.g., folding laundry while listening to a podcast). For this reason, Greg McKeown suggests a helpful distinction between multitasking and multifocusing.4

Why You Shouldn’t Try to Multitask in a Conference Session

But problems naturally arise when you try to combine two incredibly complex and language-intensive tasks like listening to an academic paper and checking your email or social media.

In addition, the easier you make it for your brain to “escape” an academic paper into the world of your email or social media, the more difficult you make it to maintain focus the next time around on a different paper or cognitively demanding activity.5

Plus, if you craft for yourself a very selective conference schedule to start with, you’ll already have biased your schedule toward the sessions that you find more worth attending. And if they’re more worth attending, they’re more worth attending to while you’re in them.

4. Take notes.

Taking notes in a session is a great way to help keep your mind from wandering off—let alone wanting to seek out distracting stimuli like email or social media.

It’s also a good way of helping you retain the content of the papers you attend, whether or not you look at your notes again afterward.

You may have some electronic device with you during a session. (If you’re attending virtually, you certainly will.) So, you may be inclined to take your notes digitally on that same device.

If that works for you, that’s great. But handwriting notes can provide benefits you don’t get if you’re taking notes by typing.6

And if you want to store notes digitally after your conference, Adobe has a wonderful, free scanner app that makes digitizing handwritten pages very easy, even if they’re bound in notebooks.

5. Write or revise your paper to be heard.

For the academic conference sessions I’ve attended, the “acceptable public speaking” bar is quite low. There are some significant exceptions, but biblical scholars as a group aren’t generally known for being great orators. And you don’t have to be either. But it’s not at all uncommon for presenters to write and present their papers in such a way as to make it more difficult for the audience to comprehend.

There’s nothing stopping you from doing that. But your paper will probably get better engagement if you do some simple things to make it easier for the audience to assimilate.

5.1. Read your paper comfortably in the time you have.

You can make your paper easier to hear in several ways. But first and foremost, know how much time you have to present. Write or revise your paper to fit in this timeframe (or clearly mark out for yourself what sections you’ll skip if there’s too much to read it all).

In English, a normal speaking pace tends to be 100–120 words per minute. So, if you have 20 minutes, that gives you about 2000–2400 words. If you condense what you have to say so that you can say it at a reasonable pace and not need to speed read, it’ll be that much easier for the audience to track with what you’re arguing.

5.2. Use a “corrected conversational” style.

Second, if you’re writing your paper only to be read, you might be tempted to have one four-line sentence after another. But you probably don’t talk that way, and your audience probably won’t hear best that way either. Instead, write your paper in a “corrected conversational” style.

Don’t try to “sound smart.” The content of your argument will take care of that more than the grade level of your vocabulary or sentence structure. Instead, say things in your paper like you would say them in conversation. Just edit out the brokenness (e.g., “and um …”) and informality (e.g., “When I read x text, I was like …”) that characterize ad hoc conversation where those might be too much for an academic conference context.

5.3. Explicitly signal your argument’s structure.

Third, give your audience an outline, whether you decide to have a handout or not. In how you write your paper, look for places where you can signal for the audience where they are in the overall structure of your argument.

Can you give them an outline at the end of your introduction? Can you explicitly enumerate the 7 reasons you’re right as you go through them?

Any of these structural signals will help your audience hear your paper better—not least if your paper’s later in the conference and so you’re presenting to an audience that’s correspondingly more “papered out.”

If You’re Attending in Person

If you’re attending a conference in person, you can substantially upgrade your conference experience in several ways.

6. Budget adequate time to get from place to place.

Especially at a bigger conference venue, it can take a long time to get from place to place. Even if both places are technically in the same building, it wouldn’t be unusual for it to take 15–30 minutes to get between the two.

So, be sure you plan this transit time into your schedule. For instance, I’ll often try to leave 30–45 minutes ahead of time.

And as a bonus tip, if at all possible, wear comfortable walking shoes. You’ll thank yourself after several days of getting in more than your usual step count.

7. Enjoy the book exhibit and the serendipity of spontaneous meetings.

Two things that an in-person conference facilitates really well are book exhibits and spontaneous meetings—often in the same space.

These features are another reason that, if you’re attending in person, you want to be choosey about which sessions you attend. The program doesn’t have a slot for “go through the book exhibit, find what’s been published that you hadn’t seen yet, meet new people, and bump into old acquaintances you’ve lost touch with.”

But both of all of those activities are part of what makes an in-person conference something you can leave feeling satisfied about when it’s done. So, make the most of these kinds of opportunities during the conference.

8. Observe the appropriate public health protocols.

The whole guild of biblical studies will breathe a collective sigh of great relief when COVID-19 is behind us and the “public health” measures necessary on a regular basis go back to things that go without saying. And hopefully, we’re getting really close to that point.

But for the time being, it will improve your in-person attendance if you continue to follow any pertinent guidance about masking, distancing, and the like.

It will help keep you healthy. And even if that’s not particularly a concern for you, it will help keep you from picking something up that you then unknowingly spread to other attendees. And those other attendees not falling ill will definitely help optimize your own conference experience too.

Of course, masking and distancing make in-person meetings rather more awkward. But the burden of asking for those measures shouldn’t have to fall on other attendees.

Instead, take the responsibility on yourself to do what you can to ensure a safe and healthy meeting for everyone. And take that responsibility not grudgingly but charitably and as a way of exercising good, polite neighborliness to the others who are attending in person with you.7

If You’re Attending Online

If you’re attending a conference online, there are also some specific steps you can take to enhance that experience.

9. Have your software and hardware ready.

Well before your first session, be sure to install (or update) and test any software as needed, like Zoom. Also, test your speakers and, if needed, your microphone.

By getting all of your technology set up early, you’ll avoid last-minute troubleshooting frustrations or delays immediately before a session.

If you’re moderating an online session, you might also want to take a few minutes to put together a simple timer background for your webcam.

10. Set up your microphone for capturing just your voice.

If you’re presenting or otherwise likely to speak during the session, the microphone built into your webcam, laptop, or mobile device can do in a pinch. But the audio will be much better for the rest of the attendees if you use a dedicated microphone.

10.1. Choose the right microphone.

One good option is the Samson Q2U. Others can certainly work well also. But you probably do want a “dynamic” microphone and not a “condenser” microphone—however popular some condenser microphones may be.

One of the basic differences between the two is whether they have a “dead spot” where sound gets muffled and, if so, how big that is. Condenser microphones will tend to pick up sound from all around. Dynamic microphones will tend to pick up sound only from the “front,” whether that’s the tip or some specific side of the microphone. Sound from elsewhere will get muffled.

So, a condenser microphone is great if you want to record or stream a conversation in a single room. A dynamic microphone will tend to be better if you want the audio to focus on just one thing—as when you’re the only one talking at a computer.

10.2. Minimize background noise.

But whether you get a dynamic microphone to help you or not, you’ll want to situate your space to minimize background noise as best you can. Your pets are cute, but they’ll be a distraction if they make noise while your microphone is open during the session.

The same is true for other kinds of noises, even if you’re so used to them that you don’t notice them. To help check whether you’ve developed “selective hearing” to tune out certain things that might annoy your audience, try recording on your phone just the audio from the room where you’ll do your online conference session. Then, play back that audio.

What do you hear? What do you hear that you wish you didn’t? If you find something, try as best you can to eliminate it so that it doesn’t become a distraction for your audience.

11. Connect early.

In my first fully online conference, I was scheduled to presented a paper. The morning of my paper, I got on to connect to my session in what I thought was enough time.

It just so happened, however, that my computer also decided that it needed to reboot to install an update that had just come in that morning too. 😐

I ended up still connecting to the session on time even after rebooting and even though I was a bit tighter on the time than I would have liked. But if I hadn’t had the buffer provided by trying to connect to the session early, I could easily have been late for my own paper.

Don’t let that happen to you. Instead, connect ahead of a given session with enough buffer to handle any last-minute issues that arise.

12. Don’t be afraid to break the ice.

“Zoom rooms” and the like do a great job facilitating the structured interaction that occurs in person during paper presentations and discussion times. For the unstructured times before and after a conference session convenes, virtual rooms introduce some special awkwardness.

When you attend a conference in-person, the room allows any number of things to happen before and after the session.

You can sit quietly by yourself. Or you can converse with one or a few other attendees in that session. There might be still more people in the room sitting by themselves or talking in their own groups.

But in a virtual room, everyone attending the session is all in the same group. That can make interaction before and after the session pretty awkward.

If you’re talking to one other person, all the rest of the attendees are listening to your conversation. But the alternative is for you all to sit around staring at each other while you stare into your webcams.

Any way you slice it, the unstructured time before or after a session is going to be awkward. So, try your best not to worry about it.

If everyone’s having a staring contest, feel free to do the same. But also don’t be afraid to break the ice by making some light small talk, especially if you know someone else in the session.

You’ll get to catch up with a colleague. And if anyone else jumps into the conversation, you might meet someone new too.

13. Don’t hog the line.

At the same time, there’s another principle that goes closely along with the fact that you can break the ice. And that is that you shouldn’t hog the line.

A virtual meeting room is a shared communication space. So, in one way, that room is simply another iteration of the concept of “party line” telephone service.

Given that similarity, similar etiquette applies. If you break the ice, be sure also to leave enough space between or after you do so so that others can chime in if they want to as well.

And particularly before the session, it should go without saying that the small talk needs to give way immediately and easily to the moderator when it’s time to bring the session to order.


It can take some work to get the most from an academic conference. That’s true whether you’re attending in-person, online, or some mixture of the two.

But with some forethought and preparation, conferences can provide great opportunities for you to hone your craft as a biblical scholar.

  1. Header image provided by Compare Fibre and Product School

  2. For further discussion of this kind of dynamic see, Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, 25th anniversary ed. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013), 193–296. 

  3. Multitasking: Switching Costs,” American Psychological Association, 20 March 2006. 

  4. Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (New York: Crown Business, 2014), 219–20; cf. C. S. Lewis, “Meditation in a Toolshed,” in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 212–15. 

  5. Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (New York: Grand Central, 2016), 157–59. 

  6. Pam A. Mueller and Daniel M. Oppenheimer, “The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking,” Psychological Science 25.6 (2014): 1159–68. 

  7. Similarly, see also Martin Luther’s Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague, reproduced with permission in 2020 by Christianity Today

How to Take Time Away That You Actually Enjoy

It’s hard to believe, but another year is nearing its end.1 There’s a good bit to do before it comes to a close. But with the end of the year comes the holiday season. So, it’s an opportune time to reflect on how you can be really good at taking time away.

Honing your craft as a biblical scholar means getting really good at things like handling your current work demands, developing that next project, and closing out that last assignment of the semester.

But there’s more to life than this. You’re a whole person, and the multiple facets of your life are part of what can make it rich.

So, although it’s often overlooked, a core skill you need to hone for the long haul is how you live as an academic in order to integrate the areas of your life that stretch beyond the academy. And one key way of honing this skill is by getting really good at taking and enjoying time away.

The Craft of Enjoying Time Away

With this in mind, I’d like to offer 8 steps you can take to set yourself up for some enriching time away from the regular beat of academic life over the holidays.

  1. Recognize there’s more to life than work.
  2. Start preparing early.
  3. Clarify how long you’ll be away and what you’ll be away from.
  4. Identify stakeholders who may need something from you while you’re away.
  5. Communicate with any stakeholders who might need something from you while you’re away, and address those needs.
  6. Plan for your time away.
  7. Set an email autoresponder.
  8. Keep your commitment to being away.

I’ll talk through each of these steps. But if you want some additional help sorting through them for yourself, click the button below to grab a workbook I created to guide you through each one.

Being away provides a valuable chance to focus your full attention on

  • spending time with loved ones,
  • investing in other interests,
  • pursuing non-academic projects, or
  • any variety of other possibilities.

Whatever the case, these steps will help you make the most of your time away.

1. Recognize there’s more to life than work.

Life doesn’t stop. That includes academic life. So, you’ll likely always have plenty enough to keep you busy for more than one lifetime. And sometimes, the best use of time in the margins is to prepare for and get ahead of what’s coming next.

But always leaning into the future can also easily mean you’re always leaving and unmindful of the present. It can leave you pushing forward at a frenetic pace. And that pace can easily just perpetuate itself, rather than allowing a natural rhythm for rest, reflection, and reorientation.

So, it’s important to push back on the tendency to use life’s margins only for yet more work. By doing so, you make sure you preserve space for other aspects of life that can all too easily get pushed aside.

2. Start preparing early.

In my experience, taking time away on shorter notice hasn’t normally worked very well. That’s especially true if you’re wanting to be away for what you feel is a comparatively longer time.

When taking time away, I’ve sometimes carried with me mentally whatever research, teaching, studying, or administrative activities I’ve had on my plate. Or I’ve forgotten about at least a few loose ends then felt compelled to work on tying them up during what was supposed to be the time away.

Naturally, any of this “carrying with” or “forgetting about” or “tying up” ends up subtracting some of the enjoyment from the time away. On the other hand, if you start preparing early, you can minimize the open loops you have as your time away approaches.

Two Questions to Start Preparing

So, you want to “begin with the end in mind.”2. Start writing down answers to the question “What would have to be true for you to truly unplug during your time away?”3

Your written record will help you minimize anything you may otherwise forget amid everything that’s vying for your attention as you move forward.

Similarly, you’ll want to ask yourself “Are you on track now to be able to unplug while you’re away? Or if you go about ‘business as usual,’ are you likely to leave some loose ends that will shortchange your time away?”

Hopefully you’ll find yourself on a good pace ahead of your time away. And if so, that’s great.

But if you’re even a little unsure, you’re probably overestimating how tidy things will be before your time away. That’s because of a principle called “the planning fallacy.”

What Is the Planning Fallacy?

The “planning fallacy” is people’s “tendency to underestimate how long a task will take, even when they have actually done the task before.”4

You might especially encounter the planning fallacy when you’re faced with more pressure for something to be completed on time.

For example, if you’re talking with others or even mentally contemplating such conversations, you’re more liable to give overly optimistic assessments of how much you can do in a given amount of time.5

How Do You Adjust for the Planning Fallacy?

That doesn’t need to be bad news, though. It just means you’re now aware that you might need to adjust your expectations for the coming days.

You can counter the effects of the planning fallacy by adding 50% to how much time you think it will take to complete a project.6 Or to be still safer, you can try doubling your estimate.

With these updated estimates of how long it will take to complete what’s on your plate, you may find you also need to further triage what really needs to get done before your time away. And you might find that some of that can actually wait pretty easily until you get back.

3. Clarify how long you’ll be away and what you’ll be away from.

Next, you’ll want to decide how long you want to be away and what you want to be away from.

In doing so, you obviously need to be realistic and plan within whatever constraints you may have (e.g., the number of untaken personal days you’ve accrued at work).

But while you’re being realistic, also don’t shortchange your time away. If you have a spouse, involve him or her in clarifying these key questions.

For instance, my wife, Carrie, and I went through this process before our youngest daughter was born. We decided that, after she arrived, we wanted me to be able to be out of the office for the next few weeks.

Around the time of her due date, however, I also had classes I was scheduled to teach. As it happened, these classes were either just going to be ending or they were ones that I’d taught previously. So, we were thankful for that.

We decided on a 30-day window when I’d be out of the office and completely unplugged. The only exceptions would be actions I had to take because they were necessary for teaching those classes.

Even with this clear plan, I wasn’t entirely successful in disengaging to this extent (more about that below). But having a clear intention made it much easier to unplug when the time came.

And what I learned from that experience has definitely helped me do a better job since when it comes time to disconnect for time away. Like I mentioned above, there’s a craft to being away, and that craft is something that’s well worth honing.

4. Identify stakeholders who may need something from you while you’re away.

Once you’ve made some reasonable plans, you need to identify the stakeholders who might normally need something from you and not able to get it because of your time away.

If you’re going to be away only very briefly, this list is probably pretty short (or even completely empty). But the longer you’re going to be away, the more people might be impacted by your time away.

From past experience, you probably know who’s likely to have an urgent request for you at the 11th hour before your time away. So, many future “surprises” shouldn’t actually be surprising. Instead, include those people in your list of stakeholders as appropriate.

As you’re thinking about who might be impacted, push yourself to cast the net a bit wider than you’re initially inclined to.

For instance, before our youngest daughter’s birth, I submitted an essay for an edited volume. And I did so well ahead of when I was going to be away.

I then moved to other projects. So, I forgot to notify the volume’s principal editor about my upcoming time away.

Sure enough, while I was away, I got an email about copy editing the essay. Those questions were fairly urgent, as they often are.

So, since I hadn’t given the editor the notice needed to accommodate my time away, I felt I needed to accommodate the tight copy-editing deadline.

Thankfully, it didn’t take that long to work through the editor’s questions. But in preparing for that time away, I should have taken fuller stock of not just what was on my plate but also what could possibly come back onto my plate.

Had I done so, I would have recognized this editor as potentially falling into the group of stakeholders who would be impacted by my time away.

5. Communicate with any stakeholders who might need something from you while you’re away, and address those needs.

Once you have a clear picture of when and how you want to be away and who might be impacted by it, you need to communicate with those stakeholders.

General Considerations

In reaching out to your stakeholders, you want to clearly indicate when you’ll be away and what you won’t be doing during that time.

Ask your stakeholders to give you any requests they foresee in time for you to complete those requests before you’ll be away.

Because you might have multiple incoming requests, you might need to give your stakeholders a deadline several days ahead of your time away to send these requests. That way, you can have adequate time to complete the requests before you head out.

In this communication, you need to articulate clearly that any requests made after your time away starts won’t be able to get handled until after you return.

Send this notification or start this communication early enough to give your stakeholders adequate time to respond.

Depending how far ahead this is, you might also want to send a reminder to your stakeholders as your time away gets a bit closer. That way, they have a fresh prompt both about your openness to receiving and addressing their requests and about the boundaries you have around your time away.

Asking for Work Can Save Work

Reaching out to these individuals directly might seem counterintuitive. After all, things have a habit of taking longer than expected. And I’ve suggested above that you might need to triage what you can get done before your time away.

If you reach out to others asking for requests from them, you might be more likely to get things added to your plate.

All of that’s true. But the alternative is simply not knowing what your stakeholders might need while you’re away. And that’s not good for them or for you.

If you take that route, you’re setting yourself up for a series of 11th-hour decisions about what requests to cram in. And you’re also likely to have comparatively tenser discussions around requests that you might prefer to handle after your time away.

Instead of leaving yourself and your stakeholders open for such problems, be proactive.7 Contact in good time those who might need something from you. Let them know that you’ll be happy to field requests from them before or after your time away. But also communicate clearly how you’ll be unavailable during that time.

By doing so, you’re being courteous to those stakeholders, who frankly might be trying to plan some time away themselves. And your reaching out provides an opportunity to negotiate a mutually satisfactory plan for when you’ll get what to whom.

Considerations for Your Upline

If you work under someone’s supervision, your upline constitutes a special class of stakeholders who might be impacted by your being away.

And if your work culture is such that you sometimes get requests from someone in your boss’s upline, you might need to consider including that person in your list as well.

Among your stakeholders, your upline is particularly important because they have a special ability to either support or hinder your time away.

So, especially if you’re wanting to be away for longer, it’s best to start having conversations with your upline well in advance.

Whether you’re in an academic, church, or other work situation, talk with your leadership. Clearly communicate when you’re wanting to be away and what you’re wanting to do and not do during that time.

Use these discussions to identify and negotiate around concerns that your leaders may have. As you do so, you may find you need to alter your plans for your time away. If that’s the case, be sure to include your family (if applicable) in deciding what those changes entail.

That said, also don’t be too quick to modify your plans for your time away. Don’t accept “win-lose” agreements that are easy in the moment but less satisfying in the long run. Instead, work at finding a “win-win” solution to any concerns.8

6. Plan for your time away.

Don’t stumble into your time away cold. You might not want to plan it in as much detail as you do a normal workweek. That’s perfectly fine and understandable.

But your time away is valuable, as are the people you’ll spend it with. So, what you want to do with your time away deserves some careful thought.

Even something as simple as a couple short conversations leading up to your time away can help clarify how you can make the most of it.9 It can also help you avoid the temptation to dilute your time away with things that really can wait until you’re back at work.

7. Set an email autoresponder.

When your time away begins, set an out-of-office reply or other automated bounce back on your email or other communication channels. (You might actually want to do this a little in advance of when you need to start disengaging. That way, you won’t have requests come in that you don’t have time to respond to.)

A Couple Examples

In the automated reply, you don’t need to give a lot of detail. But do inform the person who’s contacted you when you’ll be able to get back with them.

If you’re taking a comparatively shorter hiatus, something like the following should work:

Thank you very much for your email. I am currently away and unable to respond to your message until [date you’ll start responding normally again]. Please anticipate a response to your message as appropriate after this time.

Or if you’ll be away for longer, you might consider something like this:

Please resend your message on or after [date you’ll start responding normally again] if it is still relevant and you would like me to respond.

I am out of the office [dates you’re away]. When I return, I will be mass archiving email that has arrived during these dates in order to begin responding to pertinent correspondence again as promptly as possible.

Thank you very much.

If you have exceptions to the “please resend this later” request (see step 3 above), you can add something like “The only exception is ….” For instance, when I was away after our youngest daughter’s birth but still needing to manage a few classes, I had the autoresponse indicate that I would respond to an email if the sender was a student in one of my classes or someone with a time-sensitive request about a student in one of my classes (e.g., needing attendance information).

Considerations for Requesting That Messages Be Resent

This second method of structuring the autoresponse may seem a bit abrupt. But it helps remove from you the burden of taking the time to reply to possibly outdated requests after your time away.10

An autoresponse like this one also clearly states what action the person making the request should take to get input from you if that’s still needed after your time away.

When I was away for our youngest daughter’s birth, I used an autoresponse like the second one above. But the request to resend the message appeared lower in the autoresponse, and I hadn’t bolded it.

So, it was easier to miss, although the information was all there. And on returning to the office, I did have one case where a critical request wasn’t resent to me. I then needed to handle that matter quite urgently.

That was still better than spending the time to sift through a month’s worth of mostly irrelevant email. But stressing at the start of the autoresponse the request to resend an email to obtain a response seems to be helpful in ensuring it’s clear what to do when you return if someone still needs a response from you on something.

I used this same autoresponse with these updates when I was away for a couple weeks more recently. After my time away, a couple folks did follow up, and I was able to address their requests before they became urgent.

8. Keep your commitment to being away.

If you have some exceptions like the example I’ve mentioned, you’ll still need to check in on those while you’re otherwise away.

Saying “Yes” Also Means Saying “No”

As you do so, just remember that “inside ‘yes’ is ‘no.'” If you engage more on these fronts than you’d intended, you’ll automatically be saying “no” to engaging with something else.

Be especially wary if part of this “something else” is family with whom you’ve committed to be present during your time away (e.g., in step 3 above).

Your time away will go faster than you think. You don’t want to look back at the end of it and see that you essentially worked from home, from the beach, or wherever and missed the opportunity to engage more fully with the variety of life that lies beyond the scope of what’s typically understood as “academic work.”

Instead, be fully present with the people and activities for whom you set aside time to disengage from this work. As you do, a tool like Freedom might help protect what you’ve decided to prioritize during your time away.11

What to Do If Things Come Up

If you find your preparations weren’t full enough, try to avoid simply squeezing school or work activity back into your time away. And if something comes up claiming it can’t wait, don’t be too ready to agree with that assessment.

You can make the choice to address these pressing items that might come up. Just be aware that saying “yes” to that automatically means saying “no” to the people and pursuits you’ve otherwise planned to be giving your time, attention, and presence to during that time.

And you shouldn’t underestimate the relational cost of that “no,” especially if it’s a cost that repeats. That said, if you really think something can’t wait, start by talking through it with those who will be affected by your plugging back in.

Negotiate with them how to move forward from where you are (even if that isn’t where you ideally wanted to be). Then, take away from your experience the lessons that will help you better disconnect the next time you’ll be away.


The scope and content of time away is different for everyone. It might be a half day at home or several weeks at the beach.

But it’s important to create space to live life as fully in non-academic domains just as much as in classic kinds of academic work. Doing so can definitely be challenging, but it’s well worth the effort.

So, with the steps above, hopefully you can plan some good, enjoyable time away in the not-too-distant future. That time away will then allow you to reengage with academic life even more energetically afterward.

Just like other parts of the craft of biblical scholarship, your ability to unplug from academics and focus on other life domains is also something you can hone over time.

As you do it more and with more intention, you’ll notice yourself gradually getting better at being not just whatever your school or work demands require. You’ll also find yourself getting better at really enjoying the time you spend focusing on other life domains too.

  1. Header image provided by Jude Beck. 

  2. See Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, 25th anniversary ed. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013), 73–101 

  3. For this way of framing the issue, I’m grateful to Michael Hyatt, “Make Progress on Goals in Only 5 Minutes,” Michael Hyatt & Co., 21 September 2020. 

  4. Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (New York: Crown Business, 2014), 182; italics original; see also Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011). 

  5. Cf. McKeown, Essentialism, 181–83. 

  6. McKeown, Essentialism, 181–83. 

  7. Cf. Covey, Effective People, 73–101. 

  8. For discussion of this principle, see Covey, Effective People, 215–46. 

  9. For this suggestion, I”m particularly grateful to Michael Hyatt and Megan Hyatt Miller, “How to Rejuvenate with a Staycation,” Lead to Win, 25 August 2020. 

  10. For this excellent suggestion, I’m particularly indebted to Michael Hyatt and Michele Cushatt’s discussion, “How to Vacation Like a Pro: 7 Steps for Recharging with Intention.” Sadly, it appears this discussion is no longer openly available online. 

  11. For more about how I use Freedom, see Alexandra Dempsey, “J. David Stark: Creating Systems to Prioritize What Matters Most,” weblog, Freedom Matters, 18 November 2020. 

How to Use Zotero to Cite a Conference Presentation

Academic conferences can be great places for you to contribute to ongoing work in a field and learn from the work of others.1

Hopefully, some of what you learn will prove particularly enlightening for your own work. In that case, you’ll want to appropriately acknowledge the presenters from whom you learned so much.

There are, however, both ethical and technical considerations you need to address before appealing to conference presentations in your research.

Ethical Considerations

Different presenters have different views of how appropriate it is for you to cite their conference presentations. Some will be perfectly fine with it. Others will be on the opposite end of the spectrum.

For instance, the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL)’s webpage for annual meeting seminar papers and websites reads, in part,

Because these papers represent works in progress, they should not be quoted or otherwise cited without permission from the author.2

Especially given this variety of opinion, before you cite a conference paper,

  1. Look for a version of the research that the author has subsequently published. This published version will represent a more final state of the author’s views on the topic. So, it will be a better source in any case. And by publishing the work, the author is explicitly inviting others to read and interact with it on a broader scale. So, you needn’t worry about whether it’s appropriate to cite that published work.
  2. Look for other published work you could cite to document the same point as you heard expressed in the conference presentation. Or if you aren’t able to find either of these,
  3. Reach out to the author to ask permission to cite the conference presentation. Until and unless you receive explicit permission to cite the presentation, however, you should carefully avoid both citing and (of course) plagiarizing from it.

Technical Considerations

If the author gives you permission to cite the conference presentation, it’s then up to you to cite it properly. That involves knowing what your style manual requires and how to produce what it requires if you’re using a reference manager like Zotero, which can prove helpful in a number of ways.

What SBL Style Wants

For instance, if you use SBL style, citations of a conference paper should look as follows

31. Susan Niditch, “Oral Culture and Written Documents” (paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the New England Region of the SBL, Worcester, MA, 25 March 1994), 13–17.

35. Niditch, “Oral Culture,” 14.3

Then, your bibliography should show an entry like

Niditch, Susan. “Oral Culture and Written Documents.” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the New England Region of the SBL. Worcester, MA, 25 March 1994.4

How to Use Zotero to Produce What SBL Style Wants

If you use Zotero, installing the SBL style from the style repository will mean Zotero automatically keeps the style up to date for you.

(If you haven’t already installed the style from the repository, click here to drop in your email. And I’ll send you the direct link to the repository’s entry for this style, along with several others you might find useful.)

Zotero has a “Conference Paper” item type, but that’s designed to be used for a conference paper that’s been published in a collected volume of conference proceedings.5

So, with the SBL style installed in Zotero, you’ll use the “Presentation” item type. Then, for that item, you’ll need to complete the following fields as described below:

  • “Title” with the title of the paper,
  • “Presenter” with the name of the presenter, adding additional presenters with the plus button as needed,
  • “Type” with the word “paper” or another appropriate descriptive term for the presentation,
  • “Date” with the date for the presentation,
  • “Place” with the location of the conference,
  • “Meeting Name” with the name of the conference, and
  • “Short Title” with a short title for the paper.


Conference papers aren’t always the easiest sources to cite, either in terms of ensuring it’s okay to cite them or, if it is, in composing the citations themselves. And fully published work will generally make stronger contributions to your argument, not least due to having gone through more formal peer review. But if you find yourself able and needing to cite a conference paper, Zotero can certainly streamline the process of documenting your interaction with that paper.

  1. Header image provided by Mikael Kristenson

  2. Society of Biblical Literature. “Annual Meeting Seminar Papers and Websites.” Society of Biblical Literature, n.d.; italics added. 

  3. Society of Biblical Literature, The SBL Handbook of Style, 2nd ed. (Atlanta: SBL, 2014), §6.3.8. 

  4. Society of Biblical Literature, SBL Handbook of Style, §6.3.8. 

  5. Rintze M. Zelle, “CSL 1.0.2 Specification,” Citation Style Language, 2015. 

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