Category Archives: Style

Adding a counterargument

by Lydia Pierce

Do you ever feel like you’re talking to a wall? Like no one is listening to your writing, or as if what you’re writing doesn’t matter? Adding a counterargument may be a quick solution to find a place for your ideas in the greater academic conversation.

A counterargument is a short deviation from writing about your main thesis. Similar to the bridge in a song, it is a break to the normal pattern. A counterargument is a way to explore the arguments of those who might try to discount you, and it adds context to your writing. After presenting the counterargument, it is important to explain why your argument still holds.

Why should I add a counterargument?

Adding a counterargument into your writing can strengthen your piece greatly. A counterargument proves that you are well-educated about the subject. It shows that you aren’t blindly stating your opinion, but rather are thoughtful and aware about every aspect of the topic.

A counterargument may often start out with “however” or “some may argue.” When you begin this way, you may follow with a reference to another scholar who does not agree with you. Finally, circle back to your original ideas by stating how your argument holds strong in the face of this opposition.

What if I can’t think of a counterargument?

The best way to find a counterargument may not be to look for it, but rather to come across it during your research. When doing research, I will often find some sources that support and some that negate my argument. I end up using the ones that contradict what I’m trying to argue as my counterargument in my paper.

By adding a counterargument, you add context to your writing. This allows you to contribute to the ongoing academic conversation between scholars about different topics. Being a part of the academic conversation is what makes your writing matter because it is contributing to the progress of thought in society.Don’t be afraid of the opposition, embrace the counterargument!


Lydia Pierce is a sophomore majoring in mathematics. She loves to swim, mark books, and ride her bike.

The last shall be first

by Anna-Zoe Herr

Want to know a simple way to make your wording pop? Pay attention to where you put your words in each sentence! A simple rule is to put the words that carry the most meaning at the end of your sentences.

Roy Peter Clark explains why this works in Writing Tools,* where he advises us that “for any sentence, the period acts as a stop sign. That slight pause in reading magnifies the final word.” That means the last word in every sentence stands out because there is a mental pause right after it. When chosen carefully, the last word in a sentence can provide a bridge to the next sentence, emphasize meaning, and even create a liveliness of tone. Clark calls this “emphatic word order,” which is a small edit for a writer, but a huge improvement for the written piece.

There are two things necessary in order to use emphatic word order when you write:

  1. Be clear what exactly you are writing about in the whole text.
  2. Be clear exactly what each sentence is saying and doing as part of the whole.

If we are very clear about our subject or argument, we often do emphatic word order intuitively; but in many cases we need to go back, play with each sentence, see how it fits into the whole paragraph, and determine what the important words are. With that understanding, when we rewrite the sentence, it can do miracles!

Here is an example:

“Today, some areas of science seem to have claimed to declare truth and error, a status only religion used to have. Therefore, science is as controversial a topic as it gets, for in our age it started knocking on the doors of individuals on a quest for a more accurate truth and has fallen onto the slippery slope of political power-play.”

Using the principles of emphatic word order, I could revise like this:

“Today, some areas of science seem to have claimed a status that only religion used to have: the right to declare truth and error. Therefore, science is as controversial a topic as it gets, for in our age it has fallen onto the slippery slope of political power-play, as well as knocking on the doors of individuals in a quest for a more accurate truth.”

When you look at the last words in these sentences, you can see that they carry the most weight.

The words we choose to put at the end of a sentence can change how readers interpret our intent, but if we understand our intentions, then we can use rhetorical strategies like emphatic word order  to express them in each sentence.

Anna-Zoë is a double major in global perspectives and studio art. She has studied in a university in Germany prior to coming to Principia, where she also studied to be a writing tutor. Next semester, she will be going on the Prague abroad to continue with more writing.

*Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark (2008)

Passive acceptance

by Genevieve Bergeson

Many of us have heard it before; many of us will hear it again: the infamous term “passive voice.”

Some instructors say in bold, capitalized, and not-at-all passive voices, “DO NOT USE PASSIVE VOICE,” as if it stands alongside splint infinitives and end-of-sentence prepositions as the cardinal (albeit mythical in some circles) sins of writing.

I have a confession. Let me whisper it to you.

It is okay to use passive voice. Sometimes it’s even preferable.

While it is true that passivization can impede clarity and concision (especially when used excessively), it is not a grammatical error; it is a stylistic tool for emphasis. Specifically, the subject of the sentence receives the action instead of doing the action.


The mouse ate the cheese. (Active)

The cheese was eaten by the mouse. (Passive)

In the first case, the subject, the mouse, performs the action of eating; in the second, the subject, the cheese, experiences the action of being eaten. A nifty trick: To switch between passive and active voices, move the main words (e.g., cheese, eat, mouse) of the sentence.

Use passive voice…

  1. To emphasize the object or recipient of an action, not the doer of the action. [Note, this can also divert or hide blame.]

The mice in the science lab were accidentally let loose by the teacher’s assistant.

  1. When the doer is unknown or you wish to make the doer anonymous.

Class is canceled! (Which, I must say, is much more exciting than “The science teacher canceled class.”)

Be alert! While forms of “to be” (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been) are good clues, they do not guarantee passive writing.

  • As a linking verb, “to be” simply describes something’s state of existence: the cheese is holy, er,
  • In progressive tenses, “to be” is a helping verb that indicates continuous activity: The mouse was nibbling the block of Swiss when the cat entered.

I invite you, therefore, to counter resistance—passive and aggressive—to this misunderstood element of style. Intentionally employing the passive voice can bespeak a mouseterful command of the written word.

Genevieve Bergeson, a former Principia College writing tutor and post-graduate teaching intern, delights in all things creative—art, words, and music. She has authored and illustrated the children’s book Racing Pajamas (read more at and has several other stories in the works.

Did he say “Bible extra Jesus”?

by Katie Hynd

How is an exegesis paper different from a research paper? Why do we write these “extra Jesus” papers in Bible classes, anyway? These are two questions I asked last year as I began my post-graduate teaching internship with the Religion Department. I was determined to find answers.

Essentially, an exegesis paper is a research paper. The Religion Department uses the word “exegesis” instead of “research” because there are specific requirements for papers in Bible classes that a typical research paper doesn’t include (or that a research paper requires that an exegesis paper foregoes).

An exegesis paper does not argue a thesis statement or answer a research question. It is guided by a Bible passage.

In Bible classes the word “passage” is used frequently. A passage is a short selection of Bible verses. This short selection can be as short as one line from the Bible, or it can be up to five or six Bible verses. The length is up to you and your professor.

You will become very familiar with the Bible passage you select. After selecting your passage and reading the surrounding text, your exegesis assignment sheet will ask you to answer questions about the literary, social, historical, and theological context of this passage.

The word “context” can seem complicated, and it threw me off when I was writing my exegesis. Don’t let it derail you! Context simply means the surroundings or setting. So, when you are given the prompt to research the literary context, you are being asked to analyze the text that comes before and after the passage you’ve selected—the surroundings. Similarly, the questions about your passage’s social and historical context are asking you to share the setting of your passage. And finally, the questions about your passage’s theological context are asking you to analyze how God is referenced in the surrounding text and how He is portrayed in your passage.

While there are lots of differences between an exegesis paper and a research paper, in both you are expected to write an introduction and a conclusion. The intro and conclusion give you the space to tell your professor what you thought about your passage before you started researching and what you think about it now that you have written a complete paper.

Recently I was surprised when chatting with a few of my friends about their experiences writing an exegesis paper. They told me they enjoyed the space to research a Bible passage. They liked learning more about how to use Bible resources and what to do when they have questions about Bible lesson selections.

So if you choose a passage that deeply interests you or bothers you or you simply want to learn more about, researching and writing an “extra Jesus” paper can be fruitful. Wishing you all the best!

If you want to learn about the root of the word “exegesis” or why religion papers use Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) style or what to do if you are lost and confused in the research process, please see Exegesis Paper FAQs.

Katie Hynd is the post-graduate intern in writing for the Principia College Center for Teaching and Learning. Last year she interned for the Religion Department.

Write detail by painting the picture

by Katya Rivers

Some of you love to write; others don’t. This is completely normal. Writing isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But before you toss it out the window, let me introduce writing to you as an art form—and something that can actually be fun. If you apply yourself wholeheartedly, writing can open your eyes to observational skills, critical thinking, and creativity, and it expand your thinking overall.

So how can writing be fun, you ask? It all lies with descriptive detail, observation and communicating what you see and experience to your audience. You can use descriptive writing to

  • make scenes realistic and memorable
  • help readers experience an emotion
  • share your feelings more clearly
  • bring characters to life
  • convey key ideas, especially complex ideas
  • help readers feel like they are in the scene, the narrative or the story

Here are a couple of suggestions to help you write descriptively and spice up your papers.

  1. Use the details to create a strong mood or feeling about the subject
  2. Make sure to draw on all five senses: sight, touch, hearing, taste and smell
  3. Consider including figures of speech, the imaginative comparisons that will evoke feelings in your readers.

Here is an example of descriptive writing in a short story, but keep in mind that academic papers can include some of these moves. After reading the following passage from Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” and reflect on it. Ask yourself what you felt. What emotions did the author evoke in you, what was effective? Was it the word choice? The tone? And then apply your gathered information to your own writing.

Suddenly there shot along the path a wild light, and I turned to see whence a gleam so unusual could have issued; for the vast house and its shadows were alone behind me. The radiance was that of the full, setting, and blood-red moon, which now shone vividly through that once barely discernible fissure, of which I have before spoken as extending from the roof of the building, in a zigzag direction, to the base. While I gazed, the fissure rapidly widened—there came a   fierce breath of the whirlwind—the entire orb of the satellite burst at once upon my sight—my brain reeled as I saw the mighty walls rushing asunder—there was a long tumultuous shouting sound like the voice of a thousand waters—and the    deep and dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently….

—Edgar Allan Poe, “The Fall of the House of Usher”

The author uses sensory details to paint a word picture of a person, place, scene, object, or emotion (see the bold words). Descriptive writing is about painting your message—you want your audience to engage, do be curious and intrigued or provoked. Detailed writing allows you to connect to your audience most effectively. What’s pretty neat about descriptive writing is that it not only helps your readers grasp your message, but it also serves as an effective tool to explain and persuade. So, write on!

Katya Rivers is a senior majoring in religion.

Seven Bible style tips

by Katie Hynd

Learning about Bible grammar threw me for a loop. Even though I am a trained writing tutor, I had no idea how many tricks of the trade there were for religion classes until I served as a writing tutor for an Old Testament class. The more questions students asked, the deeper I delved into the SBL* Handbook of Style.

Here are a few key tips that will help you toward a good grade in your Bible class.

  1. The word “Bible” is always capitalized.
  2. The word “biblical” is not capitalized (except when it begins a sentence…).
  3. Capitalization is a bit more complicated when it comes to eras and events. Ask your professor if you are unsure whether something you will reference frequently needs to be capitalized, such as Babylonian Exile. (Note: you may find each professor has a different preference.)
  4. Abbreviations are important!
    1. Books of the Bible should be abbreviated, but don’t guess how to abbreviate the book title! On the last page of the Biblical Studies Citation Guide, Barry Huff, one of the Principia religion professors, has listed how each book should be abbreviated.
    2. WARNING: Exceptions to the rule! If the book of the Bible is the first word in the sentence, or if you don’t include a chapter number, write out the whole book title.
  5. The words “chapter” and “verse” should not appear in your paper unless one of these rules applies.
    1. If you are referencing a chapter, first write the abbreviated book of the Bible and then the chapter number (use the Arabic numeral system). Examples: Exod 4:5, Luke 3.
    2. If you are referencing a verse, include the abbreviated book of the Bible and then the chapter you are referencing. Examples: Gen 1:1, Matt 4:2.
  6. The word “God” is capitalized if you are discussing the Hebrew deity. If you want to use the Hebrew word for God, it is also capitalized and can be spelled as either Yahweh or YHWH.
  7. Use quotation marks to emphasize words you are researching, such as “angel” or “temple.” Quotation marks will bring attention to the word and explain to your reader why you are repeating one word in your paper. Conversely, use italics when you are analyzing a word in a foreign language, such as mal’ak (Hebrew for angel) or heykal (Hebrew for temple). This helps the flow of your paper and your reader.

And if you have further questions, please ask a writing tutor (or your professor) for help!

*SBL stands for Society of Biblical Literature

Katie Hynd is the post-graduate intern in writing for the Principia College Center for Teaching and Learning. Last year she interned for the Religion Department.