Writing Guidelines

Our writing is an act of love and of compassion. Our goal is to create beautiful, meaningful, and life-giving texts. It is intentional work over time. It is work we share. Each piece needs a shared baseline. Guidance across voice, style, and genre.

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These writing guidelines help us create a consistent experience. A priority is writing that is approachable. Writing that allows us to hear each person’s unique voice.

Keep Sentence Structure and Grammar Simple

It is from a posture of love and compassion that we consider our reader. We desire to have our writing accessible to as many people as possible. This means we keep ideas direct. We break up concepts in ways that make sense. We know that our audience is diverse. There is a range of native languages, levels of education, and reading abilities in our written language. One of the easiest ways to write for a broad audience is to keep sentence structure and grammar simple. Remember that we are here to connect with God. To help others connect with God.

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Word and Language Selection

Let’s choose language and words that invite people in. Writing in a way that helps people see themselves in our work. There are a few areas in which we need to turn our attention. The words we choose are key to making texts accessible.

References to God

God is deserving of our reverence and honor in our lives and writing. This is why we capitalize the first letter for written references to God. We include all parts of the Trinity. Both proper nouns and pronouns should be capitalized.

There is one more consideration when we are translating from Hebrew sources. In our writing, we need to highlight the Tetragrammaton (YHWH or YHVH). We understand this to be the most holy name for God in Hebrew. In English, it needs to be written as LORD. When possible, it should use small caps. If that is not possible, every letter should be all capitalized.

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Contemporary Lanugage

To be an Urban Monastic is to be contemporary and present in the world. Our choice of language should match our incarnational presence in cities. It can be okay for other groups to use older or religious language. However, we want to help people be present with God and others. To do this in the midst of their cities. We believe using contemporary language lowers barriers between many people and God.

This does not mean that we are chasing trends or using slang. The writing we do should sound current for decades. When it comes time for review, we hope it only needs light touches.

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Exclusionary Language

Words and language are fluid in their meaning. Each person attributes meaning from their experience and understanding. We should desire to be gracious to all. To be kind. To find ways of speaking to the whole human experience. Using language that does not celebrate or elevate the darkness of humanity. Language that does not exclude individuals or groups. That does not dehumanize. We should do our best to not cause harm with our words, imagery, and ideas. Avoiding exclusionary and derogatory language. Wording to exclude based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability, or more.

Our translations of scripture should be faithful to the author’s intent. This will include texts that are difficult, shocking, violent, or offensive. We should be gentle with these passages. We can choose language and structures that are clear but do not celebrate.

There is a high calling for us in scripture. Its invitation can offend our sensibilities. The same is true for the rigor of our way of life. Let us take care not to make life harder for some or exclude any.

Let us continue to educate ourselves. Let us listen to others with tender and generous hearts. Let us believe those who tell us that language is problematic. Our goal is to not add offense. Jesus calls each of us to take up our cross and follow Him. May we not hinder others with language that excludes.

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Gendered Language

There are terms, titles, and phrases in daily use that elevate a gender. Most of the time, they explicitly include men. This leaves everyone else to read themselves in. Left to decide if they are implicitly present or not. Urban Monastic is open to everyone. No one is excluded because of their sex or gender. So we should choose language that helps everyone see themselves in our texts.

Within narrative text, we should ensure that pronouns match their subjects. Individuals should have pronouns that are clear and accurate. In groups where the gender is not explicit, we should use neutral group terminology.

Many times, gendered words can simply be removed without a replacement. This is preferable. We can remove a word when it does not add much meaning to the text. This is one example. “Jesus was born a man” and “Jesus was born.” There is not enough difference in meaning to keep the gendered term. We still understand that he shares our experience, that he was a baby and got older like us.

When it is important to the narrative or concept to include a term, we prefer to use one without a gender. The goal is to ensure that the impact and scope of the text are the same today as the author intended. This would bring about a change like the following example.

"Therefore, just as through one man person sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned"

Romans 5:12 [NASB]

Our goal is for everyone to see themselves in our writing. Minimizing gendered language helps us welcome everyone into our work. We achieve this goal, in part, when we choose language that is inclusive.

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Neutral Group Terminology

The words we use to refer to a group follow the same spirit as our approach to gendered language. We should prefer to use neutral group terms. Using a neutral term frees us from ordering genders. It also includes those who do not identify with the listed terms. This is a list of terms you should use in their place.

  • Children: instead of daughters & sons, sons & daughters, daughters, sons and others.
  • Siblings: instead of brothers & sisters, sisters & brothers, brothers, sisters, and others.
  • Parents: instead of mothers & fathers, fathers & mothers, mothers, fathers, and others.
  • People: instead of men & women, women & men, men, women, and others.
  • Ancestors: instead of fathers, forefathers, forebearers, and others.
  • Descendants: instead of seed, offspring, & general term for future generations.
  • Les Enfants: au lieu du filles et fils, fils et filles, fils, filles, et autres.
  • Les Fratries: au lieu de frères et sœurs, sœurs et frères, frères, sœurs, et autres.
  • Les Parents: au lieu des mères et des pères, des pères et des mères, mères, pères, et autres.
  • Les Personnes: au lieu d’hommes et de femmes, de femmes et d’hommes, d’hommes, de femmes, et autres.
  • Les Ancêtres: au lieu des pères et autres.
  • Les Descendants: au lieu de postérité, progéniture, & terme général pour les générations futures.

There are some things to think about when translating. Our choice of plural term should reflect the group. The majority of the time, the reference is for a mixed group. Limited are the times the Bible (and other texts) is explicit for only men or only women. We should use neutral group terms most of the time.

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Reading Level – 6th Grade

We want to bring our way of life and resources to as many people as possible. One of the most important ways to do this is through how we write. The authors of many religious texts write in very complicated ways. They create work beyond the level of reading comprehension for most people. We seek to do the opposite.

Our goal is to target a reading level at or below the average. This will change with time and across languages. This works with our goal of keeping our sentences and grammar simple. At the time of writing, our English target is 6th grade.

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Most of the time, our work or writing references a short Bible passage. In some cases, we include an entire work – like the psalms’ presence in the Divine Office. We normally pull small portions out of the Bible. This can leave the reader without context. This lack of clarity hinders their understanding.

Our goal is to lightly touch the text to increase clarity. Are there ways to bring the source text’s wider textual context to the shorter text? This is an example of when we’ve done this for the Divine Office of Compline. One of these prayers includes Revelation 22:4. The opening of this verse reads, “They will see his face…” These two pronouns are unclear when removed from their textual context. Who is “they”, or “he” referring to? There is no confusion if one reads the full text.

No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His servants will serve Him.
Revelation 22:3

The surrounding text gives us the context we need. We are not translating a Bible. Instead, we are translating a breviary to pray the Divine Office or for other short-form work. We can expect our Bible passages to be used out of context. The text of verse 4 follows. The unclear pronouns are struck through, and clarified terms are in italics.

They His servants will see His Gods face, and His name will be on their foreheads.

We should leave a text untouched if it has unclear language and lacks contextual clarity. Let’s not add or create meaning. The point is to convey meaning that is clear and present in a natural reading of the whole textual source.

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Larger than Earth

We are undergoing a shift in our relationship to creation. People have been living in space since the year 2000. It is reasonable that humanity will soon be living on other planetary bodies. This was beyond comprehension until recently. Human-powered flight only happened in the early 1900s.

This technological development invites us to expand the scope of our language. It invites us to ask a theological question. Is our God only the Lord of the Earth or of all creation? We affirm that He is Lord of all creation.

During the centuries when people wrote the Scriptures, they could hardly see the curve of the earth. People seldom left their nation of birth. In some ways, it is similar for them to proclaim the God of their nation as the God of the Earth. It is a way to declare that God is bigger than us. He is bigger than this city or this nation.

Our intention is to help expand our view of God. To see Him as Lord of all creation across all time. That His lordship extends beyond all the cosmos.

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Translation Specific Guidelines

The work of translation is both interpretation and art. These last guidelines only apply to translation work. All the above guidelines should also apply. These address unique issues. Issues that arise when moving texts across languages and time.

Maintain sentence flow and structure

The authors of these texts wrote with meaning and style. Many of the texts can fit nicely into our guidelines when translated strictly. Whenever possible, let’s follow their flow and structure. What is fluid and natural in one language may be rigid and awkward in another. We should give preference to the flow of the author’s ideas, narrative, and emotions. Start with the source text structure. Then see if it works better when restructured.

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Focus on being heard, chanted, or sung

Many of our texts will be heard. You may be the one reading, or you may not have the words in front of you. Our translations should keep this in mind. Interesting grammar or similar-sounding words can be insightful for readers. Those same strategies are hidden from those listening. One example comes from Psalm 110. The opening line can be written as “The LORD says to my lord.” There are two different words for lord in the Hebrew: יְהֹוָה (yehova) and אָדוֹן (adoyn). If we translate them both as ‘lord’ this is confusing for our purposes. The latter term can be rendered as master. This both illustrates the difference in title, prestige, and power. It is also clearer to a listening audience.

We should also read and sing translations as part of our process. This lets us notice clunky or difficult phrases that can be redone. If a translation will be read or sung, let us make sure it is pleasant to speak.

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Adapting for language differences

Words between languages are often connected loosely. We need to be careful not to impose ideas foreign to the author on their texts. Every language has unique ways of connecting words. Some use placement and proximity. Some pair words together in gender, number, and/or case. We should adapt our writing to be clear about these relationships.

English has a shortcoming with the lack of a second-person plural. Translations should try to make it clear when an author is speaking to a group or an individual.

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Not intended for academic study

Our texts are not intended for academic study. This is not to say they are inaccurate. We work hard to make faithful and clear translations. Our focus is not academic. Our texts favor flow, accessibility, and beauty over more word by word annotated works. There are no footnotes. When possible, we encourage serious students of the Bible to study critical editions. If that is out of reach, we can recommend editions and tools to help.

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Tracking the Authors, Translators, and Reviewers

Everything written for Urban Monastics should be stored with the name of the person who wrote it. We want to give people credit for their work. For the Divine Office, the source text files can track this. Otherwise, we should include it in the text files. Writing down the name of the author and those who helped review it.

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Tracking Translation Source Texts

We track the sources of our non-original work. The easiest way is to track this in the source text files. There is a section to include the sources that were used.

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Writing Guidline Checklist

  • Are divine pronouns cased correctly?
  • Are antiquated terms replaced with their contemporaries?
  • Is it free from exclusionary language?
  • Are the gendered terms needed for clarity?
  • Are we using neutral group terms?
  • 6th grade reading level or lower
  • Is it a short passage of Scripture: have vague terms been clarified from its textual context?
  • If appropriate, is the scope larger than earth?