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 Easily Cite ANF and NPNF with Zotero

The Ante-Nicene Fathers (ANF) and Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (NPNF) series are now well over a century old.1 But they continue to prove useful resources. And when you need to cite them, Zotero can easily handle SBL style’s special requirements for these works.

Use a Critical Text First

Useful as they are however, the translations in ANF and NPNF aren’t based on critical texts of the fathers. And the manuscripts of the fathers’ works sometimes evidence different readings, just as do manuscripts of biblical literature.

So, before you rely on ANF or NPNF, you should typically ask yourself if there’s a better text available. Often, there will be.

The Fathers of the Church (FC) series published by Catholic University of America Press can often be a good alternative. The introduction to each volume typically tells you what text the translation is based on. So, you can double check before opting to work with that text.

What SBL Style Requires

But let’s say you look around for a better option than ANF or NPNF and, for whatever reason, you don’t find one. In that case, the general citation pattern SBL style requires is as follows

  1. Tertullian, On Baptism 1 (ANF 3:669).

If you’re citing NPNF, however, there’s an additional wrinkle that you need to distinguish between the first or second series. SBL Press’s guidance on this question has changed over the years. But according to the SBL Handbook of Style blog, the example given for citing NPNF in the SBL Handbook of Style’s second edition isn’t the most consistent with what the style does in similar cases elsewhere.2 So,

Contra the example given in SBLHS, the series number is best indicated by a 1 or 2 plus a solidus preceding the volume number (not a superscripted 1 or 2). Thus volume 12 of the second series would be cited as follows:

NPNF 2/12:85–963

Consequently, as SBL Press explains, you’d generally have a fuller have a citation like

44. Augustine, Letters of St. Augustin 28.3.5 (NPNF 1/1:252).4

How to Use Zotero to Cite ANF and NPNF

To cite ANF and NPNF as SBL style requires with Zotero, you’ll first want to have the current style installed.

How to Set up Your Zotero Records

Once you do, you’ll generally want one record for ANF, one for NPNF 1, and one for NPNF 2. You’ll then add to the Extra field for each of these records

  • annote: <i>ANF</i> for ANF and
  • annote: <i>NPNF</i> for both NPNF 1 and NPNF 2.

These entries will tell Zotero to bypass its normal process of composing citations and instead use the abbreviations you’ve specified.5

How to Create a Citation

So, if you wanted to recreate quoted above from the SBL Press blog, you’d

  • create a citation with your NPNF 1 resource,
  • leave the locator field set at “Page,” and if you’re citing NPNF 1 or NPNF 2, enter the corresponding series number and a forward slash (thus: “1/” or “2/”),
  • in the locator field, enter (also) your citation’s volume and page number or range (thus: 1:252 or 1:252–53),6
  • in the prefix field, enter everything you want Zotero to include before the series abbreviation (e.g., “Augustine, <i>Letters of St. Augustin</i> 28.3.5 (“), and
  • in the suffix field, enter the closing parenthesis that should follow the page number (thus: “)”).


If you look carefully enough, you’ll probably often find you’re often able to find better translations of the fathers than what are included in ANF and NPNF. But when you can’t, these series can be incredibly helpful standbys that Zotero can help you manage your citations for, despite SBL style’s special requirements.

  1. Header image provided by Zotero via Twitter

  2. “Citing Text Collections 6: ANF and NPNF,” weblog, SBL Handbook of Style, 13 July 2017; Society of Biblical Literature, The SBL Handbook of Style, 2nd ed. (Atlanta: SBL, 2014), 101. 

  3. “Citing Text Collections 6: ANF and NPNF.” 

  4. “Citing Text Collections 6: ANF and NPNF.” 

  5. Normally, you would want to specify separate abbreviations for separate sources. But in most cases an abbreviation-based citation in SBL style requires a space between the abbreviation and the locator. And there’s not currently a good way to tell Zotero to exclude this space if the citation is for NPNF 1 or NPNF 2. Something like this is what would be required to use an abbreviation like <i>NPNF</i> 1, <i>NPNF</i> 1/, <i>NPNF</i> 2, or <i>NPNF</i> 2/ successfully. So, for the time being the user needs to supply the series information in the abbreviated citation. 

  6. Zotero will only automatically convert hyphens to en dashes and truncate page number ranges if page numbers, commas, and hyphens are the only things in the locator field. Having the colon for the volume number disrupts this flow. So, you’ll need to enter in the locator field exactly what you want Zotero to output. In the future, we may be able to adjust the style to provide the volume number directly. In this scenario, you would want to have one record in Zotero for each volume number in ANF, NPNF 1, or NPNF 2. If your piece has a bibliography, you would then also need to condense the references so that you listed a full reference to ANF, NPNF 1, or NPNF 2 just once in your bibliography or in an abbreviations section at the front of your piece. 

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

Authorities for SBL Style: Publisher House Style

As comprehensive as it is, the SBL Handbook of Style (SBLHS) doesn’t include everything.1 Instead, you’ll often need other sources to determine what SBL style requires. Knowing where and when to refer to these other sources can be tricky. In this series, we dispel this mystery and discuss seven common authorities for SBL style in priority order.

One of the self-professed goals of the second edition of the SBLHS was to provide “more complete information and require[] less consultation of [especially] The Chicago Manual of Style” (xii).

Anyone who has used both the first and second editions of the SBLHS will notice that the second edition makes substantial headway in achieving this goal. Many more details are handled directly in SBLHS. And it’s now comparatively rarer to need to consult another authority like the Chicago Manual.2

On the other hand, over the course of an essay of any length or—even more—over the course of a book-length project, you’ll regularly need to consult other authorities about many minor details that the SBLHS doesn’t take the space to spell out.

Sometimes though, different authorities have different advice on the same issue. So you need both to consult the proper style authorities and to consult them in the proper order.

You go as far down the list as needed to answer your question, then you stop and do as described in that highest-level authority.

According to SBL Press, there are seven major kinds of style authorities you need follow in order (§3).3

1. A House Style

According to SBLHS §3, the highest-level authority for your writing is what we might call a “house style.” Most commonly, this is the set of requirements specific to the organization where you’ll send your writing.

Practically though, it’s helpful to divide this first level of authority into two types. The first of these we’ll discuss here. The second we’ll pick up next week.

1.1 From Your Publisher

If you’re working with a specific journal or book publisher, their style requirements trump everything else. Often, their house style may resemble or defer to SBL style at multiple points but have some customizations too.

For instance, the SBLHS doesn’t specify whether to include a comma after the abbreviations “i.e.” or “e.g.” Consequently, SBL style follows the rule in the Chicago Manual (§6.51) and includes this comma.4

On the other hand, if you’re formatting your essay to submit to the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS), you’ll want to be sure you don’t use a comma after either “i.e.” or “e.g.” According to JETS’s contributor instructions,

the guidance of the most recent edition of The SBL Handbook of Style should be followed. (§1.7)

But one of the specific exceptions taken by JETS’s style to the SBLHS’s conventions is that normally

no comma should be placed after “e.g.” (“e.g. the book of Romans”), or “i.e.” (“i.e. the apostle John”). (§2.8)

Such minor style variations can take quite a bit of work to accommodate. But it’s important to recognize that it’s your responsibility as an author to make life easy for the editor to whom you’re handing off your manuscript.

After all, between you and the editor, you have the most vested interest in getting your manuscript into print.


SBLHS has enjoyed wide adoption as a formatting standard since the first edition’s release. Even so, individual publishers have specific conventions they want you to follow for various reasons, even though these conventions depart from the SBLHS.

In this environment, each of we need to be familiar with the SBLHS and often follow it carefully. But more than this, we often need to follow the SBLHS as it’s qualified by the specific formatting requirements of the particular publisher we’re working with.

Doing so will ultimately remove one more possible speed bump from the sometimes already potted road from submission to publication.

  1. Header image provided by SBL Press. 

  2. Unless otherwise noted, citations of the Chicago Manual refer to the 17th edition, published in 2017. 

  3. SBLHS actually specifies more than seven kinds of other authorities. But here we concentrate on discussing the most common. 

  4. For additional information at the moment though, see “The Chicago and SBL Manuals.” 

Daily Gleanings (26 April 2019)

Nijay Gupta digests the main resources he suggests for “mov[ing] from biblical text to theology and application.”

According to a recent email from the Society of Biblical Literature to its members,

JSTOR has invited SBL into a two-year pilot program that provides access for all SBL members to more than eighty journals in JSTOR’s Religion and Theology Collection.

Members may access the collection by visiting the member benefits page of the SBL website and then logging in. Once logged in, a new link will appear under the JSTOR member benefits giving you access to the journals in the collection.

SBL members also get a 50% discount on annual subscriptions to JPASS, JSTOR’s service that provides access to over 2,000 journals. To claim that discount, click on the JPASS link when logged in to the member benefits page.

SBL is grateful to JSTOR for this member benefit through 2020.

Typing Biblical Languages in Unicode

If you’re writing in biblical studies, you need to be able to type biblical languages. Transliteration might work in some cases, but you can’t and shouldn’t always bank on being able to use transliterations when you write.

Partial English keyboard

Where We Were, Where We Are, and Why Unicode Is Important

In years gone by, typing biblical languages on an English keyboard required using a font that would mask English text and make it look like Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic.

For Hebrew and Aramaic, this often required typing the text backwards (i.e., left to right in the direction of English).

If you wanted to submit a paper electronically, you’d then have to ensure you used the proper font or sent or embedded the proper font with your paper.

Without that, “λόγος” could easily turn out to look like “lo/gov”—or worse—to whomever opened the file without that font installed. Thankfully, Unicode has changed all this.

“Unicode” is a system that “provides a unique number for every character, no matter what platform, device, application or language.”1

These unique numbers—like “03C2″—might not mean much to humans. But, they allow computers to tell exactly what character is being used, independent of the font in which it is typed.

So, for instance, a computer will know that “03C2” represents a human-readable final sigma (ς) and not, a Hebrew vav (ו). The computer can distinguish between these two characters even though, in by gone days, both have sometimes been mapped to the “v” on an English keyboard.

If this is all a bit too geeky, just remember that, with Unicode, a sigma is a sigma, a vav is a vav, and changing fonts doesn’t change that.

You’re already familiar with changing fonts between Times New Roman, Arial, or whatever (wingdings excepted) and having your English text remain the same.

Typing in Unicode means you can do the same thing with Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic in Times New Roman, Arial, or another Unicode-compliant font. That text will remain the same when you change fonts or send a file to someone else. If that person doesn’t have your font, their computer might substitute a different font, but it shouldn’t display gibberish.

Installing a Keyboard, or Keymap

Of course, if you want your computer to be able to tell the difference between when you press the “v” key and mean for it to use “v” and when you press the “v” key and mean for it to use “ς” or “ו”, you need some software to help.

Here enter biblical language keyboard software. You can find this available freely online or, with perhaps more limited functionality, as features within your operating system (e.g., Mac, Windows).2

Personally, I’ve preferred and used the keyboards provided by Logos. These are available for Greek, Hebrew/Aramaic, Coptic, Syriac, and transliteration.

(And no, you don’t need to purchase a base package to use these. They’re free and independent of the Logos system itself. So, you can even use these software keyboards if you use another Bible software platform altogether.)

You can download and install whichever combination of these keyboards you prefer. Inside each of the ZIP files available for download is also a PDF showing exactly what key strokes or combinations will produce what text output on the screen.

Most of the keyboards should install pretty simply by following the instructions provided on the download page. There are two possible exceptions:

  1. For a right-to-left language (e.g., Hebrew), you may need to reboot your computer or allow Windows to install support for right-to-left (or “complex script”) languages in order to use that keyboard.
  2. For the transliteration keyboard, you may end up with two English keyboards installed. To check this in Windows 10, search for “language” in the Windows menu, and open “Edit language and keyboard options.” From there, let the language list populate at the bottom of the window, and click “English” and “Options.” From there, simply click the standard US QWERTY keyboard layout, and choose to remove it. That way, you can simply use the more robust transliteration keyboard as your basic English keyboard, and you needn’t keep a fourth keyboard around to be in your way in the keyboard switcher menu (see below).
    Windows 10 Language Options dialog box image

Switching between Keyboards

To use a particular keyboard layout in Windows 10, simply choose that layout from the language button that should appear in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen by the default clock position.

Windows 10 keyboard switcher image

Alternatively, you can use the keyboard shortcut Alt+Shift to cycle through the languages in this menu. This will cycle through the keyboard layouts without an on-screen prompt. And you’ll quickly learn the order in which they come up.

You can also change keyboard layouts by using the shortcut Windows key+Space. This will pop the language selector up on the screen and allow you to see where you are in the cycle of selecting a language to type in.

With the Windows key depressed, press the Space bar repeatedly to cycle through the list of available languages.

When you’re ready to type in English again, simply change the keyboard switcher back to English, and you’re good to go.


Whether you’re just learning biblical languages or you have gotten pretty comfortable with them, being able to type them in Unicode will help you communicate more clearly and simply with others about these languages.

Once you invest just a few minutes in getting properly set up, you’ll be ready to write, and you’ll enjoy a much more seamless experience when using these languages in your writing.

  1. Unicode Consortium, “What Is Unicode?” 

  2. SBL also has a number of resources that may prove helpful as you get set up for and used to typing in Unicode Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic via a software keyboard.