Some tips for better style

Editing articles and Current Intelligence notes from authors around the world, I am exposed to all manner of literary devices and techniques. Some enhance the reader's understanding and enjoyment of the written word. Others do not. This post seizes the opportunity to mention some recent phenomena which authors are politely invited to avoid:
  • Folly with footnotes: in common with most other reputable and readable journals, JIPLP uses only one level of footnotes. In the past month I have encountered an article blessed with two sets of footnotes, one in numerical order and referring to materials at the foot of each page, the other (strictly speaking, a set of end notes) in alphabetical order and referring the reader to materials which followed the article's concluding paragraph.  I have also today met my first footnoted footnote -- probably the ill-begotten offspring resulting from the union of inaccurate copy-and-pasting and careless proof-reading.  Please supply just one set of footnotes, referring to material at the foot of the page.

  • Badinage with brackets (or playing with parentheses): some contributors deploy these devices so subtly that they convey a degree of meaning that editors and readers may easily miss.  What is the shade of difference between "a likely award of damages" and "a (likely) award of damages", for instance? Or "the putative defendant" and "the (putative) defendant"?  Some other authors use consecutive brackets which, with no unbracketed text between them, look a little like a line of textual railway carriages chugging their way across the page.  Two consecutive pieces of bracketed text are aesthetically unappealing even if intelligible and should not be used.

  • Dissection with dashes: properly used, a dash can create an admirably dramatic effect. However, like many dramatic gestures, the dash loses its power almost in proportion to the extent to which it is employed. To put it another way, " Howeverlike many dramatic gesturesthe dash loses its power almost—in proportion to the extent to which it is employed".  Loss of power through excessive use is not confined to the dash, though. Exclamation marks are similarly afflicted. 

No comments:

Post a Comment