See the Submission Agreement and the more detailed Extended Style Guide for article requirements. The below is designed especially to help authors avoid 'pitfalls', that is, to avoid jeopardising the successful passage of articles through the peer-review process.
The most common pitfall: not reworking existing material
Perhaps the most common pitfall is simply submitting a PhD thesis chapter or some other existing piece of writing without reworking the material. The below will explain the problem with this.
PhD work is often quite suitable for RTR in its content but almost always will need to be reworked to be suitable as a journal article. The level of effort needed to do this reworking should not be underestimated. It can be difficult to omit material that so well suited the PhD thesis and took so long to construct and yet does not fit the article format.
Conference papers may present the opposite problem since they can lack the level of evident research needed for an article. The substance may be quite appropriate, but will the author take the extra time needed to interact further with the literature and to substantiate rigorously all claims made?
RTR articles are to be of the highest academic standard and should:
- be framed as a response to current academic literature;
- add to academic understanding.
To restate it, articles should be driven by up-to-date research and make an original contribution.
Some allowance is made for:
- 'state of scholarship' articles - articles that overview the state of current scholarship on an issue, providing that some assessment is also made;
- original historical research, which can rely heavily on primary sources and for which the body of secondary literature may be limited. The article still needs historical assessment and not just recitation of historical facts.
- Writing a defence of a theological position or Christian practice rather than filling a gap in current literature and understanding. E.g. articles on 'Why God is Triune' or 'Why Christians should pray' would be highly unlikely to be suitable for RTR. More likely: 'Assessing Current Trinitiarian Developments', 'An Evaluation of the Theology of Prayer of scholar x or historical figure y'.
- Submitting a highly-graded undergraduate or postgraduate coursework essay (BTh, MDiv, MA). These assessment items do not require an original contribution, so the essay would have to be quite exceptional to suit RTR.
An RTR journal article should have one focus, and that focus is usually narrow. See below on 'Introduction'.
- Trying to cover too much. 'Assessing Current Trinitiarian Developments' might be acceptable, but it might be better to narrow that, for example, by focussing on one particular issue within Trinitarianism or the writings of one scholar or one small group of scholars.
- Asking for a 'two-part' article. If you need to ask the editor if a 'two-part' article will be accepted, you probably are trying to cover too much. Consider revising your work into two discrete articles, each of a narrower focus. RTR very infrequently prints two-part articles.
- Submitting a PhD chapter without reworking it, as mentioned above. PhD chapters usually have many detours and side issues and have a level of interconnectedness with an 80,000+ word whole that can be difficult to separate out.
The usual essay convention should be followed by having an introduction, body, conclusion, and footnotes.
The article introduction is the most important section of the article, both for the author and the reader.
The article introduction should:
- state the research question, thesis, or contention;
- explain the rationale for the article in relation to the state of current academic understanding;
- explain the contention in terms of what is being added to academic understanding;
- explain how the contention is going to be validated (though a fully-fledged discussion of methodology will not be possible);
- usually give a summary of the structure of the essay.
Without making your introduction formulaic and dull (i.e. do not just mimic the following), it might be expected that your introduction will make statements such as:
- 'This article looks at this issue...'
- 'This article finds that in current academic discussion, there has been less attention to issue x', or 'certain points have been underestimated'.
- 'While others have maintained positions x and y, this article argues that there is a position z'.
- 'This article will argue for position z by taking a close reading of biblical text x, by analysis of comparative ANE material, by reading historical figure a in the light of b...'
- 'The first step will be to look at subtopic a, then subtopic b, with some supplementary focus on subtopic c'.
- Not having a formal introduction but jumping straight into argumentation.
- Using the introduction to express something 'witty' or peripheral but failing to say what the article is about.
- Shaping the introduction to suit the article rather than shaping the article to suit (the substance of) the introduction.
- Making personal commentary or an assertion of personal authority. E.g. 'I used to believe x but, after much thought, I now believe y'. Your personal development is usually irrelevant to the topic (unless rebutting your own previously-published and well-known position), and that you gave the topic much thought can be taken for granted and does not add authority to the argument.
The essay body consists of subsections, with each subsection supporting one aspect of the main contention.
Body sections should:
- use headings and subheadings. This helps the author ensure that the essay is well-organised and helps the reader see the forward-moving flow of the essay.
- discuss the main views that are held on the particular point in view and then present the author's view based upon the data.
- be clearly related from the outset to the main contention of the article. The reader should not be left guessing as to why a section is included in the essay.
- Only presenting one side of an argument.
- Presenting an opinion ('I believe') without explaining why the position is held.
- should summarise the contention of the article;
- should summarise the grounds upon which the contention was demonstrated throughout the essay;
- may raise implications flowing from the article but not germane to it;
- may point to further areas of research that the article has indicated may need fuller attention.
- Thinking that the conclusion does not matter and therefore writing only a sentence or two.
- Thinking that the article says what needs to be said and so using the conclusion for something other than giving a summary.
- Introducing new arguments in defence of the main article contention.
- Concluding something that was not proven in the article or that was not part of the article's research question.
Bibliographical data in the footnotes should evidence that the most relevant and current academic literature on the topic has been accessed and interacted with.
- The opinions, character, and motives of others are to be reflected upon respectfully and only as far as the empirical data seems to allow. This includes when commenting on a historical figure.
- Dogmatic claims to have proved a point or to have solved an issue should normally be avoided. 'The data seem to allow the conclusion' would usually be more appropriate than 'this proves beyond doubt'.
- Rhetoric should be avoided in favour of a unembellished presentation of the data and arguments.
- Colloquial language, metaphors, figures of speech, illustrations, humour, light-hearted asides, and playful alliteration should be avoided.