Music by Brother J. L. F. Mendelssohn.
MASONIC WRITING--HOW TO
M.S.A. is frequently asked for guidance and information on "how to" write a Masonic paper. The
following has been adapted from the guidelines provided the members of The Illinois Lodge of
Developing the ability to write a paper
can be beneficial to a person in his vocation, in
his church work, and in his community projects. There is great demand for persons who
can do research work and write papers and
make speeches within the Craft.
The following steps are usually taken in the
preparation of a scholarly paper, and some suggestions, comments, and recommendations are
made for those of our members who want to
write a paper but never tackled such a project
1. SELECTION OF A SUBJECT.
The initial step is not as easy as would appear when
first considered. It is made difficult for a
number of reasons. The world of Freemasonry
is a large one and there are many phases that
can be explored and developed making a selection cumbersome. It is usually made difficult
because in most instances the person will think
too big on what to cover; it is essential to be
specific in selecting a subject. Success in selecting a suitable subject depends on thinking
small on a specific subject. For example, instead of thinking about writing a paper on the
complete history of the Scottish Rite, think in
terms of writing a history of your lodge. Instead of thinking in terms of general Masonic
history, think of something that has a local connection, is simple, and is specific. Look around
you with open eyes and an inquiring mind.
There are bound to be items in your community
that will lend themselves to being developed into a suitable paper. Here are some suggestions
of things you may find: Is there a street in your
area named after a prominent Mason? Is there
a school in your area named after a Mason?
Has there been a public officer in your area
named after a Mason? Has there been a public
officer in your area who has served the community for many years who has been a Mason?
What prominent public figures in your area
have been members of your lodge? Does your
lodge have an item such as an apron, a picture,
etc., that has an interesting story or connection? Has any member of your lodge ever moved to another state and then served as Grand
Master of the Grand Lodge there?
In considering the subject give some
thought to two questions: Is the subject one
that will be of interest to others, and, am I interested in the subject? If you are not interested
in the subject you will not enjoy working on it,
and if others will not be interested in reading
about your work you will be serving no useful
When you have selected a subject, write the
editor and have him advise you if the subject is
suitable for a paper and also if someone else is
writing on it already.
(Many of the manuscripts submitted to
M.S.A. for possible use as a Short Talk Bul letin are written on subjects already
2. GATHER ALL THE FACTS.
second step is to gather all the available facts
that will be incorporated in your paper. This
may mean starting in a library, checking
original records, interviewing persons with
first-hand information, or a combination of
these things. Don't expect others to do this
work for you. We know of one instance where
one of our Illinois members thought it would be
nice to have the names of every Mason buried
in Arlington National Cemetery. He wrote the
Cemetery and requested such a list and he was
surprised when he was informed that they had
no way of knowing if a person buried in the
Cemetery belonged to any specifie'd group.
If you are writing a history of your lodge
you will probably want to start with an ex-
amination of the Charter, then check the Grand
Lodge Proceedings for information about the
issuance of the dispensation, etc. Your lodge
minutes book is an absolute necessity. Look for
copies of programs, trestleboards, items connected with them. Look for members of your
lodge who are collectors; they may have items
of interest. Interview older members, listen to
them, take their statements on a tape recorder,
but later double check their statements in the
details as memories are faulty. Look for problems that existed and how they were solved.
Judge events by the times when they occurred
and not with the standards of today. Have in
mind five words at all times: Who, What,
When, Where, Why. Check for material in
your local library. If there are copies available
of local newspapers, these might contain items
of interest. Reading every issue would be a time
consuming effort; it is best to be selective and
check only those issues which were published at
times when there is a likelihood that the
newspaper might have published something
about the lodge.
If the subject is one that lends itself to
research in a library, plan on spending time
there. Instead of copying material by hand,
consider photocopying pertinent material not
only to save time but to have the material readily available in your file for future reference.
Use cards to preserve facts. These could be
one of the standard sizes, 3xS, 4x6, or Sx8. Put
only one fact on each card so that later they can
be shuffled and arranged in order easily.
Always put on the card the place where the fact
was secured; this may be needed later for a
footnote, or to check its accuracy, or to return
to the place and secure additional details.
Don't rely on your memory. Take notes on
everything you discover even though the item
may seem of no importance at the time. It may
be an important link in your story when the
time arrives to arrange the material.
If you are working on a general Masonic
subject it might be well to start in one of the
Masonic Encyclopedias (Mackey or Coil), or
the Encyclopedia Britannica, or Hastings Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics. In cases of
papers on biographies you might want to start
with the Dictionary Of American Biography
and then go to William R. Denslow's 10,000
Famous Freemasons. Possibly Who's Who.
3. PREPARE A GENERAL OUTLINE.
With all the material on hand after you have
completed your search for facts, you will have a
good idea on how you are going to present the
subject. At this point you should prepare a tentative outline. It will have at least three broad
subdivisions, a beginning, the basic information, and a conclusion. In the case of a history
or biographical paper, the job is simple because
you can present the material in chronological
order but you will find it best if the material is
divided into logical segments. This will make
your job a bit easier later on.
4. ARRANGE YOUR MATERIAL.
point go over the cards and arrange them in
proper order, keeping in mind the outline you
5. PREPARE A DETAILED OUTLINE.
With the use of the general outline and the
cards you are now in a position to prepare a
detailed outline which will serve as your
blueprint for the preparation of your paper.
The value of such an outline is that it will give
you a bird's-eye-view of the entire paper,
enable you to determine if the subject is well
organized, that it is in logical order, and covers
all the areas you intend to cover. At this point
you may decide to move some of the cards to
6. "IN THE BEGINNING ....": We are
taught that "no laudable undertaking should be
begun without first invoking the aid of Diety."
Many Masonic authors can attest to the importance of Divine guidance in every phase of
7. PREPARE THE FIRST DRAFT:
the detailed outline and the cards you are ready
to type the first draft of the paper. You will present all the facts and ideas on the cards plus any
others that come to mind to clarify the area.
Work fast and don't pay too much attention to
details at this point in order not to lose your
general trend of thought. Don't stop to check
correct spelling of words, or other details. Thls
can be done later.
After you have typed the first draft set it
aside for a week or two. Get the material out of
your mind before you go to the next step.
8. THE FINAL STEPS:
Read your first
draft of the paper slowly and carefully, check
all facts for correctness, check spelling, grammar, and if the material sounds good. Place
yourself in the position of the reader you are
addressing. Have a questioning attitude testing
the clarity of the language and its message.
Note changes on the manuscript as you go
along. Consider eliminating unnecessary words
or facts or possible additions for the sake of
completeness or clarification. After this has
been done you are ready to type the paper in
final form for submission.
Writing is hard work. It takes inspiration,
perspiration, motivation, planning, writing and
rewriting. The rewards are mostly intangible,
but provide great personal satisfaction in seeing
your thoughts preserved in print for posterity.
It's a marvelous way of "spreading Masonic