Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Social Barriers of The Official Style in Legal Writing - Emma Guthrie

Writing in the legal field portrays a great deal of characteristics that are considered to be representative of official style writing. In order to understand why things are written the way that they are, we must aim to identify the basics of a piece: why was it written, or what is the purpose? Who wrote the piece, and who did they write it for? Being aware of who the intended audience is as well as for what reason writing is composed can tell us a great deal about the literary and stylistic choices that were made in the writing process. In addition, background information can prove to be beneficial.

Legal opinions, once a case is fully processed and finalized, are public information. But, if this writing is intended to be read by the average citizen, it would seem that the writing of these documents should reflect this, demonstrating reading ease for the average education level.  More frequently than not, this isn’t the case. Brown v. Board of Education is a US Supreme Court case that was decided in May of 1954, nearly 65 years ago.  This case is one that is commonly known by American people, as it marked an important legal stride for our nation in terms of civil rights for the African American community. I acquired this opinion from the Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute. The purpose of this particular institute is to promote a more easily accessible resource for the public to gather information about legal matters that they should be aware of as citizens of the United States. The site receives about 15% of its funding from Cornell Law School itself, but also relies upon the donations from the public in order to provide the most effective information possible. Interestingly, the goal of this institute is to offer more comprehendible legal information to the public, but it’s run by an ivy league university, which indicates that the creators of it were likely privileged in terms of their education, achieving a much higher grade level than the average US citizen.
The reason I chose this particular piece to demonstrate the complications of official style writing, is because it was a case that outlined an issue of whether or not the “separate but equal” doctrine, which was decided in application of public transport via the Plessy v. Ferguson case, was a constitutional violation of the Fourth Amendment right to equal protection in the realm of public education. So essentially, the segregation of “negro” children from white children in public schools was being considered legally sound due to the fact that although the educational facilities were separate, they offered all children an equal educational opportunity.  The fight against this, by black children represented by their legal council, was that it was impossible for “children of color” to experience an equal educational experience when they were subjected to an inferiority complex by being restricted to participate in the same classrooms as white children.
The reason I have offered so much detail regarding the foundation of this case before getting to the textual analysis, is because it’s crucial to note that this case outlined a social issue of exclusivity by race in education. And, while we are no longer legally permitted to segregate classrooms or any public places on the basis of race, we do exclude certain demographics in the way that we write by the choices we make stylistically by use of the official style.  When the official style is used, it tends to complicate meaning at times, which allows only the understanding of readers who are familiar with such writing and therefore excludes the understanding of those who are less educated. At the time in which this court opinion was written, the African American community was most certainly less educated than it’s white counterparts due to historical restrictions on education.  It seems that the opinion of Brown v. Board of Education would be especially crucial to this population of African Americans, however, but being that it was written with official style, the proportion of people that could likely read it with full comprehension was likely rather low.
            Let’s look at the results of a readability study on this piece.  Most legal opinions are much longer than this one, which is only about 3 and a half pages long, counted at 4,239 words. The average grade level of this piece is 11.5, with a readability rating of 42%.  The two main critiques offered by the readability site to lower these levels, was to eliminate the use of passive voice and lengthy sentences that also tend to be complex. In other legal writing, I might expect these statistics to be even higher, but because this case was more straight forward than the usual, it required less use of legal jargon. That being said, we know that the average grade level of adults in the United States today is 7. This document exceeds the average reading level by 4.5 grade levels. And, what’s more, this case dealt with children as it’s plaintiffs: children who were younger than a grade 7 education level; if not even the participants in the case could read and understand this document on their own, then what’s the point?
            Below is an excerpt from the opinion that was marked up by the readability site to indicate the potential issues noticed in terms of how the official style is complicating clarity. In purple, “very long sentences” are indicated.  In blue, “long sentences” are indicated. In green there is a hidden verb. In red, passive voice is used. Finally, “substantially” is highlighted in pink to show that adverbs should be avoided when possible.

These cases come to us from the States of Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia, and Delaware. They are premised on different facts and different local conditions, but a common legal question justifies their consideration together in this consolidated opinion. [p487] In each of the cases, minors of the Negro race, through their legal representatives, seek the aid of the courts in obtaining admission to the public schools of their community on a non-segregated basis. In each instance, [p488] they had been denied admission to schools attended by white children under laws requiring or permitting segregation according to race. This segregation was alleged to deprive the plaintiffs of the equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment. In each of the cases other than the Delaware case, a three-judge federal district court denied relief to the plaintiffs on the so-called "separate but equal" doctrine announced by this Court in Plessy v. Fergson, 163 U.S. 537. Under that doctrine, equality of treatment is accorded when the races are provided substantially equal facilities, even though these facilities be separate. In the Delaware case, the Supreme Court of Delaware adhered to that doctrine, but ordered that the plaintiffs be admitted to the white schools because of their superiority to the Negro schools.

The site’s main suggestions include changing some of the long sentences into bulleted lists or splitting them into shorter, simpler sentences, and using more active voice to demonstrate who or what is doing an action and who or what is receiving it. These are pretty straight forward ways in which the writing could be clarified for some readers, but yet it was not; why? I think there are a couple of different complications that come with legal writing that can be pointed to when it comes to the continued use of the official style. 
Mainly, there is a social barrier between those who are educated and those who are not, in our society. I think there is certainly truth in the fact that those who work in the legal field, of whom are those who write these sorts of documents, are in positions of authority, and write in such a way that demonstrates this superiority, whether intentionally and consciously or not. In addition to this, so much of the legal writing that’s written in the court is read mainly by others who work in this field. If one writes and reads writing in this field, they are likely going to be familiar with the use of official style, and be accustomed to both writing in this way and reading writing of this sort. Finally, there are times in which legal writing is obfuscating, meaning it’s intentionally confusing or hiding a meaning from it’s reader.  The reason this is sometimes the case is because lawyers and other legal workers often want their clients to agree to a deal or sign a contract, but if the client cannot understand what’s written, the lawyer can give them a verbal explanation that differs from what’s actually written in order to get their client to comply. Evidently, instances such as this carry very complicated issues of ethicality.
Although choices of style in writing seem to be of little significance at times, they almost always are executed for a particular reason that relates to their audience and purpose.  In being able to understand these details, there is much to be learned about the world of written communication and how it’s utilized to control other social issues that appear unrelated. As you can see from the analysis I’ve provided, there is so much to see below the surface of writing; how deeply you analyze will simply depend on how much you are ready to discover about the world around you.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Academic Writing and Exclusion: Impacts of the Official Style

I took a sample of the official style from an article that was published in 2016 in a Journal called Social Alternatives, which is an independent journal that deals with contemporary social, political, economic, and environmental issues through analysis, critiques, and reviews. Started in 1977, the journal is also oriented towards social justice, and their history page explains that their goal is to influence real change in the world. Editorial decisions are made by the Social Alternatives Editorial Collective, which consists of about 15 editors, most of who are professors at various universities. The journal is non-profit and partly supported by sponsors. The journal publishes four editions per year, and for a one year subscription, it costs $50. There is, however, one free article available on their website.
The above information comes from the journal’s website:

The specific article that I chose is called, “Culture, Tradition and Globalisation: Some Philosophical Questions”, and it analyzes globalization and tradition as a method of understanding cultures. The author of this piece is Asha Mukherjee, who is currently is a professor in Philosophy specializing in Ethics and Logic at a university called Visva-Bharati. This particular article was published only in Social Alternatives, and according to google scholar, was cited by one other article called, “Facing Globalization From Below: A Theoretical Construct”, which argues for a specific approach to face globalization. Based on the article that cited this sample and the background of the journal it was published in, the sphere of human activities for which article was written is an academic setting. It would apply specifically to field of Philosophy, Foreign Language and Cultural Studies. It could also apply to interest groups for various social issues, because the article discusses how globalization affects local cultures and the unification of cultures.
Link to page with information about Mukherjee:
Link to the article that cites my sample: )

The goal of the journal that this article is published in conflicts with the sphere of human activity the article itself was written in. This article was written in an academic setting, but the goals of the journal it was published in are to effect change in the real world. The strategies Mukherjee uses fit the official style and what her field of expertise expects from academic writing, but there is tension between that and who her audience would have to be to actually create change. To actually create change, the article would need to be able to appeal to people outside of academia. However, aspects of this text, including jargon heavy diction, nominalization, and long sentences, exclude those people. Overall, this article fits in within academia, but because of these elements of the official style, it would not be well received by an audience outside of academia, and would not fulfil the goals of the journal.
One element of the official style that is used a lot in this sample is jargon specific to the field Mukherjee is writing for. Mukherjee uses words and phrases like “spatial distance”, “modernization force”, “cultural imperialism”, “unification of culture”, “modernization theory”, and “homogenization”. In addition to being jargon, many of those same phrases are also nouns that end in -tion, or a nominalization that is common of the official style. These aspects of the text are relevant because they are major factors in the exclusion of people outside academia and outside of the Mukerjee’s field. Here, there is tension between the diction Mukerjee uses and what an audience outside of academia who could impact social issues can easily understand. The jargon and nominalizations decrease the readability of this text and ultimately detract from the impact it could have outside of strictly academic settings.Another element of this text that reflects the official style is sentence length. There are many longer sentences which often start slowly and build up to the main point. Mukerjee writes these long sentences using strategies such as appositives and relative clauses. One example of the use of appositives comes from the sentence, “... globalisation is seen as an attempt to homogenise culture, the project of creating a common culture, as a process of unification of culture…”. Here, the phrase “the project of creating a common culture” restates the phrase “attempt to homogenise culture”, which is an appositive. Similarly, relative clauses are used in sentences like this one: “Given today’s world, which is globalised to a large extent, we cannot jump to the conclusion…”. The relative clause in this example uses the relative pronoun “which” to add information about the level of globalization in today’s world. Taken alone, these strategies would not necessarily create tension for audiences outside of academia. However, when they are used together to create long, complex sentences, they act as exclusionary elements, because the longer sentences make the whole message of the article much harder to follow and unnecessarily complicate the text. The tension from these complications ultimately separate the non-academic reader from the text and keep them from receiving the full impact text could have. In spite of this, one redeeming quality to this article is that short sentences which cut to point often follow the longer sentences. This feature of the text is relevant because it partly makes up for the exclusion caused by the longer sentences, but still does not help the text to completely include audiences outside of academia.
This piece fits the standards for writing in academic settings. However, it was published in a journal that has a goal of impacting social issues. The elements of the official style hinder this text from reaching that goal. Through jargon heavy diction, nominalization, and long sentences created by the use of appositives and relative clauses, there is tension between the sphere of human activity in which Mukherjee wrote the text, and the audience outside of academia she would need to reach in order to impact social issues. The strategies that cause that tension are relevant because they also serve to exclude audiences outside of academia, which is why the official style in this sample is ineffective.

Sample Text I used:
Thus in one sense, globalisation is seen as an attempt to homogenise culture, the project of creating a common culture, as a process of unification of culture and the need to ignore, refine, synthesise and blend local differences. Globalisation is taken in the sense that we are interdependent; that the flows of information, knowledge, money commodities, people and images have intensified to the extent that the sense of spatial distance which separated people earlier no longer accounts for humanity. We are all in each other’s backyard. There seems to be a hidden assumption that all particularities of local cultures would eventually give way under the modernisation force of some kind of cultural imperialism. This implies that all particularities were linked together in a symbolic hierarchy. But the unification of culture in the strict sense seems to be impossible. Modernisation theory set the model with the assumption that as each non-Western nation eventually became modernised it would move up the hierarchy and duplicate or absorb the dominant culture to the extent that ultimately every locality would display the cultural ideals, images and artifacts of the dominant way of life; Western or American; Europe at the centre in the nineteenth century and the United States at the centre in the twentieth century. The process of such globalisation and homogenisation is in no way presumed to be gentle and power politics would always play an important role in achieving this aim. The West is consequently granted the moral right and duty to guide and educate the others because of the necessity to ‘civilise’ the totality. The West understands itself as the guardian of the universal values on behalf of the non-Westernised world on the basis of its own image. One may always question the so-called ‘universality’ of such values due to global interdependence. In this sense, globalisation is a result of increased interconnection and interdependence of people of the world. This raises many questions and there is much discussion and debate within global ethics on what must be done in response to particular problems raised by interconnection and interdependence such as peace and war, aid, trade and development, cross-boundary issues, universal values and global norms regarding what must be done by whom and how (Hutchings 2010). Although, I will not discuss the issues relating to global ethics here, I would only point out that globalisation has proven to be a great help in addressing and resolving the wide range of problems including poverty, human rights, gender justice, business ethics, transnational child adoption, international trade, climate change, refugee rights, humanitarian interventions, terrorism, corruption, economic globalisation, migrant workers, global health and medical research (Journal of Global Ethics 2005: passim). All these problems are human problems and need to be addressed on humanitarian grounds irrespective of the differences and particularities.
Given today’s world, which is globalised to a large extent, we cannot jump to the conclusion that there is something called ‘global culture’ nor is there any ‘local culture’ as such. But we do use such categories. Presuming these categories, a local culture is conceived as being a particularity which is the opposite of global – the culture of a relatively small, bounded space in which the individual who lives engages in daily, face-to-face relationships. It is the habitual and repetitive nature of everyday culture of which the individual has a practical mastery. The common stock of knowledge of a group of people, inhabitants of a physical environment, space, building, and so on, is relatively fixed; that is, it has persisted over time and may incorporate rituals, symbols and ceremonies that link people to a place and a commonsense of the past. The sense of belonging, the common sedimented experiences and cultural forms that are associated with a place, are crucial to the concept of a local culture. Yet, the concept of local culture is a relational concept. The drawing of a boundary around a particular space as my/our own is a relational act that depends upon the figuration of significant other localities within which one seeks to situate itself.

Maria D.

How Does Discrediting Lead To Credibility?

Academic articles are one of the most popular stomping grounds for the Official Style—and this is no exception. “Mass Shootings in America: Moving Beyond Newtown” an article written by James Foxx and Monica DeLateur, works to debunk the myths following the Newtown Connecticut mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, killing twenty-six students and teachers. The piece goes through the specific misconceptions created by the media’s coverage of America’s mass killings—everywhere from the body counts, murderers, and warning signs to school security, gun laws, and mental health services. They critically examine the media’s role in the intensification of fear encompassing these mass killings, questioning the spark in controversy and initiative for change by the country’s government and citizens. The authors take an opinionated stance, and essentially downplay the severity of the issue as a whole. They use this piece as a means to closing the gap between the perceived truth of mass shootings from the camera’s eyes and the ‘factual’ truth derived from a criminologist standpoint.
Cited by one hundred researchers of various disciplines; criminal psychology, forensic psychiatry, human communications, etc., the article is presented in a way that benefits those studying human behavior, governmental policy, and/or criminology. The audience is geared toward individuals studying this phenomenon or simply looking to gain general knowledge and/or an insightful perspective, whether that be students conducting research at a university, their professors, or simply people in this field of work. Overall, Foxx and DeLateur demonstrate an expertise and credibility within “Mass Shootings in America: Moving Beyond Newtown” by building legitimate knowledge for their readers through the drawing of previous research and their counter argument.
In this article, The Official Style works to include and exclude individuals in various ways. First off, its appearance in SAGE Journal, an independent international publication website , automatically prevents the general public from accessing it without a pricey subscription that most individuals aren’t factoring into their monthly expenses. Access of this goes to those with an institutional and/or research affiliation or those with the financial freedom to do so, naturally omitting a hefty percentage of the United State’s population. Another way this example of the O.S. omits readers is through the diction used throughout. This stems from the background of the authors— James Foxx being an American criminologist at Northeastern University and Monica DeLateur being a doctoral student in the School of Criminology in Chicago, IL. The diction throughout the piece—again, creates inclusion and exclusion by tailoring its jargon to those familiar with law and criminology terminology. Foxx and DeLateaur collaborated on this article to contribute homicidal studies research by disproving popularized claims, and adding a challenging/undesirable perspective on this current topic.
Sectioning the article in a way that allows one by one addressing of the specific myths surrounding mass killings, allows the authors the ability to add contrasting assertions to each one presented. This is done in a rather passive voice with the assistance of existing research claims. Being a sensitive and ethical topic for a majority of it’s readers, the text diverges away from personal convictions and uses evidence to reinforce its statements. In this instance, the text provides an abundance of numerical statistics and past recollections of individual mass shootings throughout America—“The news coverage of Sandy Hook had Americans glued to their TV sets. According to a USA Today/Gallup poll of more than 1,000 adults, half the respondents watched the news reporting “very closely,” while 90% indicated watching at least “somewhat closely” (Saad, 2012). Fox and DeLateur 131 The extensive news focus on school shootings certainly had an impact on perception and fear. The same USA Today/Gallup poll found that nearly one quarter of those surveyed believed that a shooting spree such as Sandy Hook was “very likely” to occur in their own community and more than half thought that it was at least “somewhat likely” (Saad, 2012). This is done commonly for the reason that discrediting another source, especially with a stance as strong as this, the research behind it has to be impeccable. Without it, other researchers could discredit their claims similarly to the way they did the media’s misconceptions. Offering others this sort of statement, Foxx and DeLateaur needed to compact as much knowledge and credibility into one academic article as they could to allow themselves the evidential support that would check out upon another’s further inquiry. Maintaining a sort of consistency in sentence structure, the Official Style was able to do this—using official punctuation and language to achieve a sense of credibility.
           As far as successfulness in it’s function, “Mass Shootings in America: Moving Beyond Newtown” does a satisfactory job at supporting it’s claims with backed research and relevant illustrations. This provides an adequate counter argument for the myths that developed in the midst of mass murders unfolding and increasing throughout the country. Within the discipline of homicidal studies, research is critical, as well as the focus on both psychological and governmental/policy aspects—which the article touches on. Criminology highlights both the criminal and institutional/structural makeup that influences him/her to carry out their atrocity; Foxx and DeLateur address both. The content richness of the text allows the article to function on a competent level.

Abby Walkush

Beyond Credible: McCormack’s Use of the Official Style

On the surface, Thomas McCormack’s book The Fiction Editor, the Novel, and the Novelist presents helpful advice to those interested in publishing and editing. However, looking deeper into the methods and strategies deployed by McCormack, the prevalence of the official style is noticeable. McCormack employs the official style in his work in order to unnecessarily expand upon ideas in a way that attempt to establish his knowledge and credibility. In a book that attempts to teach its readers how to critically examine a work, it is easy to see where The Fiction Editor, the Novel, and the Novelist fails to live up to its own ideas.

Where did it come from?

In order to understand this text, first we need to examine where it came from. Here, we will examine the first section from The Fiction Editor, the Novel, and the Novelist- a novel published by Paul Dry Books. The publisher’s website lacked background information about themselves, but I was able to get a description from their Facebook page. Paul Dry Books is a small publisher of fiction works of all sorts of genres and sizes. Their goals is “to publish lively books, to awaken, delight and educate, and to spark conversation.” With much of their emphasis on fiction works, it makes sense for them to also publish a book specifically about reading fiction.

The author of The Fiction Editor, the Novel, and the Novelist is Thomas McCormack. McCormack is incredibly experienced in editing, having worked for close to 30 years at St. Martin’s Press. Before becoming an editor, McCormack was a playwright. McCormack draws on his unique experiences when writing this novel. In fact, this is the second edition of it, where McCormack was able to update it with even more of his experiences.

One of the best ways to test the reliability of a work is to examine the opinions of credible sources in the field. In the case of The Fiction Editor, the Novel, and the Novelist, many good things have been said. The Los Angeles Times are quoted “Writers will actually learn things here.” Along with that, Midwest Book review states, “The Fiction Editor, the Novel, and the Novelist is a superb handbook for fiction writers but especially recommended for prospective and professional fiction editors." It is incredibly important that the book actually has practical implications and uses.

Taking a deeper look.  
In order to truly examine something, we need to look at it beyond face value. The diction, methods, and overall word count are important things to look at when examining The Fiction Editor, the Novel, and the Novelist. Author Thomas McCormack uses strategies of the official style in his work for a few reasons. A major part of this work is the wordiness. McCormack often explains things in great detail. Is this to ensure readers understand a concept? Or, is this to establish his credibility? Let’s take a closer look. 

Throughout the chapter, McCormack engages many different strategies for writing. Let’s take a look at the very first paragraph of the section:

In the very first paragraph McCormack does his best to emphasize the importance of the word “sensibility.” He starts by using an appositive- “sensibility, the apparatus within that reacts to what’s immediately given-a good (or bad) sentence, a vivid, exciting (or blurred, flat) scene.” Throughout the entire paragraph he draws attention to the idea of sensibility, signaling its importance. Immediately following that sentence, McCormack uses a zeugma: “the sensor that feels fear, hope, and curiosity; that registers dismay and joy; that purrs in the presence of wit.” This kind of overly-spectacular language is meant to instill the authors idea of importance when it comes to sensibility.

Moving on, McCormack also loves to use metaphors and analogies, even if they do not make sense. 
Take a look at this paragraph and try your best to make sense of it:

McCormack decides to devote an entire page to an analogy of an Aunt devoted to an Uncle’s ideas. He discusses their love and how lucky it is that the two have each other to depend on. Somehow, this strange analogy is supposed to support the idea that authors should have a niche. Each Uncle should be content with the Aunt, not trying to get more women. It would have been simpler (and easier to understand) if McCormack has just stated that writers should not attempt to overly expand their audience. In an attempt to become all-inclusive, the writer may fail to capture even a single devoted reader.

In this case, McCormack’s use of the official style takes the reader away from an important point. The last sentence of the paragraph is all that is needed. Take Stephen King and J.K. Rowling- Many of King’s works are Horror, while Rowling is most known for her Harry Potter series. There will be some overlap between Horror and Fantasy fans, but the majority will not read both. The main point of McCormack’s Uncle Saul and Aunt Edit paragraph is that authors should find a niche market, that’s all that needed to be said.

This next section highlights a spectacular skill of McCormack’s that I call “rambling”:

McCormack continues to demonstrate just how smart he really is. One of my favorite phrases from this section is “however unmapped and undefined that congregation has hitherto been.” Let’s be frank, the majority of this paragraph is nonsense. The premise of the paragraph boils down to a simple idea: editors should enjoy the author and genre they work with. It’s an idea that makes perfect sense, however; this paragraph doesn’t convey the idea in a way that makes any sense at all. 
McCormack continues to establish his knowledge, casually mentioning Nabokov and Faulkner.

This books labels itself as “A book for writers, teachers, publishers, and anyone else devoted to fiction,” but is this work cannot be truly all inclusive. From the section I have examined, this book does a good examining things on the surface. It discusses techniques for reading and understanding the text. However, this book cannot help all genres specifically. McCormack knows that he cannot offer specific insights. Each novel is different. Each genre is different. Each author is different. In order to compensate for a lack of substance, McCormack uses the official style to create filler. McCormack uses filler as a way to establish his credibility. Many of McCormack’s paragraphs could be summarized in one simple sentence. However, by talking and talking and talking about a simple idea, McCormack tries to show his mastery over the idea. 

Implications beyond…

McCormack is not the only individual to use the official style. It used across a variety of professions and mediums. Sometimes, it’s even necessary to use, but we need to question where to draw the line.

McCormack used to official style in order to establish his knowledge and credibility. This is something that is incredibly important for authors. They need to show readers why they can be trusted. However, McCormack shows that establishing credibility can be taken too far. In this case, we go from establishing credibility to establishing dominance. Needlessly rambling on about a subject doesn’t make an author any more credibly. It does, however, inflate their ego in an attempt to demonstrate to others how much more they know than them.

Ultimately, the major implications take from this work is a question of morals: can we trust what we read?

Reading critically is difficult. It is much easier to skim over things and take an author’s word as fact. Extravagant language, specific use of literary techniques, and rambling are all ways in which authors can lull a reader into believing they are an expert. It is in the reader’s best interest to actually engage with each piece of writing. We should question the statements made, not take them as fact.

Collin M.