Tuesday, 28 February 2012

"It is interesting to note that ..." there is a bee in the editorial bonnet

In my capacity as Editor of the Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice I receive a good deal of correspondence from contributors on issues of style as well as substance. While questions of substance are usually raised before an article is submitted, those of style generally follow the event.

One point that greatly concerns me is the padding of text through the addition of redundant phraseology, repetition, grandiose phraseology and stretching the word count by expressing in the passive mood that which is more succinctly said in the active.  Readers may be unaware -- though authors may be painfully conscious -- that some submissions are as much as 30% shorter on publication than at their submission date.

For the guidance of JIPLP authors I reproduce the following exchange between a valued contributor to the journal and the Editor.  The contributor wrote:
"At line [...] there was some text deleted from my original submission which, I think, needs to be restored. I had started the sentence by saying, “It is interesting to note that”, because I wanted the reader to know that I was subtly moving to a new – but related – point. Perhaps the phrase “It is interesting to note that” or, even better, “It is noteworthy that” could be restored?"
He received the following response:
"I appreciate your concern – and your subtlety – but I’m afraid you have to contend with the deep-seated prejudice of a cantankerous old editor.

The words “It is interesting to note that” are to all intents and purposes banned from JIPLP since they generally add nothing but length. If the text which follows those words is interesting, they are redundant; if it is not interesting, it shouldn’t be there in the first place. And if your reader is reading what you’ve written, he’s going to note it whether you tell him that it is interesting to do so or not.

I’ve edited these words out of most of the Current Intelligence items and articles that I’ve edited since 2005. I’ve pulled them out of paragraphs and rooted them out of footnotes. And I’ve only just begun … 
If – as you say -- you’re moving to a new but related point, I’ve a great suggestion. How about “On a new but related point, .. ”".
You have been warned!

3 comments:

  1. By the same token, I might say: "If the point is new, the reader will see that it is new, and if it isn't new (and how many things are truly novel?), it shouldn't be there." Your approach would have writers never address the reader at all.

    But saying "Note that" is an entirely legitimate way to focus the reader's attention. The notion that the reader is hanging on every word of an article simply doesn't represent reality. Talk to a colleague in the newspaper business about it sometime!

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  2. Thanks, John, for taking the trouble to comment.

    You suggest: "Talk to a colleague in the newspaper business about it sometime!" But JIPLP isn't a newspaper and, while it is not the most expensive product in its market, it is an expensive specialist journal. A reader is more likely to hang on to words for which he has paid handsomely than to words he is probably reading on a free newspaper web-page.

    There's more to it to than that. Rarely do legal writers who say "it is interesting to note that" actually explain what is of interest; they generally leave it to the reader to work it out. Also "note that" is a formula frequently deployed in footnotes in which they are almost invariably superfluous.

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