Monday, April 1, 2013

Cracking the Official Style in Harvard Law Reviews

The United States Constitution is one of the most famous forms of the Official Style.  Lawmakers and lawyers alike make a living on interpreting this wordy, complex document and presenting it as a code for all American citizens to live by.  While the Constitution is difficult to understand, texts written about it and texts written about law cases throughout history are even more difficult.  I have selected a journal piece from the Harvard Law Review on a case dealing with equal protection to break apart, and to show how it acts within its activity system as it is written in the Official Style.
    Justices in the Supreme Court write opinions (and dissents) on the cases they decide.  These documents are notoriously lengthy; the justices take months out of the year to write them.  They eclipse every aspect of the Official Style.  The webpage for the Harvard Law Review states their objective in the “About” tab: “The journal is designed to be an effective research tool for practicing lawyers and students of the law.”  I have taken this to mean that the articles will, in fact, be directed towards an audience that is assumed to be knowledgeable on law; however, it is to be written in a more understandable way than the Notes, Recent Cases, Recent Legislation, and Book Notes that they are dissecting.  I chose to pick a journal from this source to examine under the scope of the Official Style because I believe many journals from this site tend to be a bit ambiguous in which style they are being written.  The text they cite is from court opinions from prior cases, and is usually very difficult to understand.  The author tries to make these complex ideas more understandable.  The problem with this is that they still write within the Official Style realm.  I would personally consider most journals from the Harvard Law Review to be the on tip of the Official Style.  While they present aspects of it, they still strive to provide clarity.  I believe it is an excellent text to analyze because I will be able to show characteristics of the style in both numerous judges and justices jargonistic quotes as well as in the authors writing.
I will explain the Official Style so you have a better sense of what I am talking about.  The use of it has become overwhelming in modern day society.  While it is easy to spot it is much more difficult to understand.  It is characterized by the text being wordy, indirect, and quite honestly hard to understand.  It seems often as if someone were to open a thesaurus and choose ornate words in a verbose manner to describe a relatively simple concept.  Unfortunately, this style is used quite frequently in contracts and important documents that people would genuinely benefit from understanding.  By writing in the Official Style, some seek to confuse their audience to simply sign a document.  Other times, authors use the style to sound more educated and, well, official.  It was created for the scientific community to sound impersonal and detached.  Don’t get me wrong, the style can be a useful tool to use in certain situations, but one must be able to dissect the meaning out of this passive, complex writing tool if one wants to achieve greatness as a writer.  
The journal that I chose to examine is titled, “Employment Law - Age Discrimination - Seventh Circuit Holds That The ADEA Does Not Preclude § 1983 Equal Protection Claims. Levin v. Madigan, 692 F.3d 607 (7th Cir. 2012).” Yes, the title does seem to scream, “I am complex and difficult to understand!” It has no given author, which is typical of Harvard Law Reviews; it is thought that if you are intelligent enough to be published by Harvard Law you don’t need the satisfaction of seeing your name printed in ink.  I will henceforth be referring to the author as “he” for functionality purposes.  This document can be accessed through the Harvard Law Review database, or at this link: madigan.pdf. According the average grade level is 12.3, the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease is 49, and the average words per sentence is 22.2 (analysis based off of one paragraph).  in interpretation of these results, one would presumably need above a high school education to understand the content based upon grammar and word structure.
Levin v. Madigan (2012) was a case in which the remedies for age discrimination were discussed.  Many federal circuit courts held that only the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protected state employees.  The Levin court was the first one to declare that disgruntled employees could also seek remedies under the Equal Protection Clause § 1983 (in law, the symbol “§” stands for section).  As mentioned before, Harvard Law Reviews are written as a research tool for practicing lawyers and students of law.
The activity system of this document does not appear to be overtly large.  Not many people besides lawyers and students tend to access law reviews.  Employers may perhaps stumble upon this particular one when looking at what type of litigation they must be mindful of when in the hiring, firing, or promoting process of either young people or the elderly.  Disgruntled workers may also access it when considering the possibility of hiring a lawyer to represent them in a case and trying to determine how much material they would have on their side.  Even so, it is presumably safe for the author to assume that the audience would have some form of higher education and a sense of the legal system.  With that being said, I believe he made one exceptional error.
The Official Style is characterized with many uses of jargon, as is this journal.  One key word used exhaustingly throughout it is “preclude,” it is even used in the title.  One would think that a word that is so essential to the overall point that the author is trying to prove would be defined, but it is not.  It is used in all tenses (preclusion, precluded, precluding) but never once is a concrete definition given to explain exactly what the author is alluding to.  You may be thinking that this is not a strong enough example, most people with higher education could define preclude for you.  But what about words such as mired, progeny, irreconcilable, or jurisprudence?  These words reek of jargon and the overuse of a thesaurus.  
The author attempts to write in the Plain Style by using metabasis.  He uses cue words such as “first,” “second,” etc. (see page 1416) to keep the reader in line of the direction he is taking the article.  This can be seen as a bit ironic however because of his excessive use of the words “however” and “therefore.”  Virtually every paragraph includes these words.  It gives the feeling of the author talking circles around himself.  He makes one point, only to switch to a completely different direction.  This can be very difficult to follow, hence my argument for the Official Style.
Along with speaking around himself, he makes parts of his arguments long-winded, twice as long as they need to be, so the reader almost loses what the original point even was.

The dashes used to offset a portion of the sentence are used a bit erroneously.  The idea is so long that the reader becomes confused.  Perhaps that idea would have been better fit in the footnotes.  This article does indeed use a large quantity of footnotes.  About one-third of every page is filled with them.  Readers fear footnotes.  They don’t know what to do with them.  Do you read them as you go? Come back and read them when you’re done with the rest of the text?  It is difficult for audiences to comprehend.  Luckily, the audience for this text assumingly has a college education, but with that being said, it may frighten off other potential readers.  
    Another tactic of making text long winded is to use a to-be verb plus a prepositional phrase.  All verbs are changed into nouns supported by a form of the weak to-be verb.  The author exemplifies this perfectly, cited from page 1417, “And because the Supreme Court had previously held that “age discrimination in employment violates the Equal Protection Clause,” the Seventh Circuit found it was.  Another example comes from page 1415:

The OIAG stands for the Office of the Illinois Attorney General and is a perfect demonstration of the Official Style.  Instead of simply saying “we fired Levin for his poor performance,” they sidestep placing responsibility on themselves by using “was” and not saying directly that they were the ones doing the firing.  By writing in this more impersonal sort of way they can not only sound more professional but also become more detached from the situation.  It can be crucial in some fields to pull your way from a situation.  In the medical field for example, having to write up case report after case report of failed surgeries or deaths can become extremely overwhelming.  Instead of saying “I did this” or “I failed to do that,” the author can take a passive voice and not claim action at all.  This tactic can be key for mental health.
    The Official Style is significant in numerous situations.  Whether it is a good or bad approach to take is a judgment call but I have argued that it has both positive and negative aspects.  The Harvard Law Review is an excellent example of the style being used in a positive sense.  It seeks to elaborate on much more difficult to understand texts while keeping a unique, professional feel.

Erin Perry

The Scholarly Non Scholar?

My article is by Cate Watson, a professor at Stirling University who has published multiple scholarly articles in the past five years. The article was found through the search engine EBSCOhost off of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse website. The keywords used to find this article were “sports” and “broadcasting.” The biggest question presented after reading this article is how credible is this article/author? In this instance, it is difficult to define credibility because in one mindset the author’s education level and personal accolades speak for themselves. On the other hand, the author is using Wikipedia, single person sentence syntax, which aren’t typical in an academic article because professors generally frown upon these types of attributes in higher education writing. That is why devices used from the official style in Watson’s article also seem to participate in a role that attempts to mask the simplicity of the subject matter.
In Cate Watson’s article, the natural unnaturalness of real-time narrative: the complex case of the sporting radio broadcast, there is a lot to question as to whether the piece is scholarly or not. In this paper, scholarly work will be defined as a serious academic study that has been published in an academic journal. The article shows signs of the official style, but it seems to be used to hide a lack of credibility simultaneously.  The article uses jargon, complex sentences, advanced diction, and difficult readability. The title itself is confusing, and makes no sense because it uses a contradictory statement to show the complexity of the phenomena being presented. The readability of this is a 14.4 grade level on average, which is twice the national average of a seventh grade reading level. The only odd part about this piece is that it uses some of the
The article uses first person language right away in the abstract and uses it throughout the article. That was surprising because it takes away from the objectivity generally used in scholarly articles and brings a humanistic aspect not usually seen.  It’s not taking the impersonal approach usually presented in official style, but is very uncommon in a scholarly passage. Watson (2012) states “Nonetheless, in this article I argue for the utility of a conceptualization of narrative in precisely these terms. The purpose of this is not to essentialize these categories as either/ors within some dubious and unsustainable binary, but rather to exploit this uncertainty in order to produce a different reading, thereby enabling new insights to be generated”(p. 54). The quote starts with an infinitive phrase to modify the rest of the sentence then uses first person to transition into a form of official style by using complex diction to explain the purpose of the article in a long drawn out sentence. But why does Watson do this? To possibly mask the simplicity of a topic that could have been done in half the length of Watson’s article?
Watson also uses a jargon from previous research she has done known as TMS or Test Match Special a cricket program that broadcasts on BBC in the United Kingdom. Watson has written two other articles previously about the TMS program and also introduces how the game of cricket is played on a side bar of the page. There are some cricket terms used in the piece, so the audience targeted might be generally toward a population that knows the sport, is educated and has interest in the field of broadcast communication. For those who don’t know cricket and read the side bar realize that Watson references Wikipedia at the end of the first sidebar section. That’s not exactly the kind of reference someone would expect from a scholarly source. Why would a college professor reference Wikipedia, which is frowned upon in the academic world? The motives behind that come into question because Watson could have easily chosen a sport more universal such as soccer.
            The rest of the article provides unnecessary diction and references to essentially talk about how announcers use fictional forms of storytelling to relate to a wider audience. Watson uses complex diction and extended syntax to basically explain that announcers are using comparative language (metaphor, simile, personification, etc.) during their broadcast. That is the more natural portion of the narrative, but the unnatural side comes when the announcer has to ad-lib during real time situations. The article itself could be half as long as it actually is, but is almost forced to use repetition that is involved in the official style. Watson cited other scholarly sources to repeat similar results to confirm credibility. That is something done well, but the way it’s used after single person sentences rather than third person is different. It’s difficult to tell if Watson is trying to gain more personal credibility, and maybe uses first person to add to her name, but as was mentioned before professors of education don’t usually teach students to do that in research writing.
 In the end, I personally feel Watson uses the official style to show expertise, and to fit the criteria needed to be published in an academic journal. Credibility comes into question mostly because the devices generally look to lengthen a subject that seems more like common sense than anything. The mix between official style and lack there of also brings to question whether or not Watson attempts to humanize the research? Is this her way of taking ownership for what she’s saying or potentially taking ownership of the concept herself? Some could argue her intensions are to create personal opinion, while others could say her methods are hindering the strength of her argument in this research altogether.

-Scott Schell

More simply put.

Terms of Service:  a crucial document that all consumers should read. But really, how many of us actually do? These documents are written specifically so that consumers will better understand the rules with using whatever product or service the company may be putting out. Companies will also use them to not only protect their products from being misused, but also protect themselves from lawsuits from product misuse or abuse. When it comes down to it, the Terms of Service is probably the most important document you can receive as a consumer, especially when on the internet. Now a day, there are countless social media websites that contain your personal information as well as track your use of their website. What they do with that information is up to them, and may be unfair. However, in all fairness, these websites are required by law to inform you on what information they will be using and explicitly lay out exactly what you can and cannot do on their website. When we as consumers check that we have “read and agree to all terms and conditions” on these websites, we are giving them permission to use that information, as well as telling them we will use the site appropriately.
Pinterest is a unique social media site. It involves members “pinning,” or bookmarking, on their page ideas from other websites. Each pin is directly linked to another website, which in the ideal world, would be exactly what is listed on the pin. For example, you may pin a recipe, with the title of the recipe and a picture of the meal as your pin. When you click on the picture, it will take you to the website it originated from, where it will give you details on how to make said recipe. In order for Pinterest to function as a safe and legal website, the pins on your page must be done correctly. They lay out the dos and don’ts of pinning in their Terms of Service document, which each member has to agree to in order to use their website. The Terms of Service include everything from Copyright issues, to not linking to faulty websites. The problem is that these Terms of Service are written pretty densely and in legal jargon that an educated person would best be able to understand, all elements of the Official Style. According to the 60secondmarketer (2012), 76% of Pinterest users have only some college education or less. Considering this, the majority of Pinterest users would be unable to understand the Terms of Service thoroughly. The indemnity clause in their Terms of Service, one of the most important clauses, is also one of the longest, most complicated sentences in their agreement.

“If you use our Products for commercial purposes in violation of Section 1(c), as determined in our sole and absolute discretion, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless Pinterest and its officers, directors, employees and agents, from and against any claims, suits, proceedings, disputes, demands, liabilities, damages, losses, costs and expenses, including, without limitation, reasonable legal and accounting fees (including costs of defense of claims, suits or proceedings brought by third parties), in any way related to (a) your access to or use of our Products, (b) your User Content, or (c) your breach of any of these Terms.”
Not only is this sentence long and intimidating, I believe it is a prime example of how the Official Style is seen in a Terms of Service document. It places the action in passive and impersonal constructions, creating an open ended statement. This will allow the company to prosecute anyone who breaches their terms. If they were to get too specific, it could limit the Terms too much and leave loop holes in the system. This way, when the actions and audience are broad, there is no way around it. Everything fits under this umbrella statement. The jargon is legal and not every day language. Even more specifically, they refer to specific legal documents that, even I as an educated student could not tell you what it entails. Although all of these examples point to Pinterest trying to alienate their readers and hide the truth of what you can really do on your profiles, Pinterest is in tune with their membership. In their Terms of Service, they do something really unique. Next to every section of terms, they include a “More simply put” box.
            The “more simply put” paragraph sums up the official style into the plain style, creating a more user friendly document. Pinterest acknowledges that its users probably don’t understand indemnity and “violation of Section 1(c).” So instead of letting you dive into what you think it means, they lay out how they interpret their own writing. Indemnity, according to Pinterest officer, is laid out as such:

“If we are sued because of something your business does on Pinterest, you have to pay our costs. Also, you should have created a business account and agreed to our commercial terms in the first place.”
In readability score alone, we went from a reading level of 36.5 with the Official Style to a 7 with the Plain Style. To me, this seems a little too good to be true. As much as I like the laid back, conversational language used in the more simply put box, I wonder how accurate it really is, and how much Pinterest is leaving out. Using one third of the words and at a much lower grade level, is Pinterest able to say the same thing? Although I doubt Pinterest is trying to trick any of its users into using their site illegally, I wonder if Official style, although dense and complicated, is best used in Terms of Service. Knowing exactly what you can and can’t do legally is important, especially to us as consumers. Using the Plain Style to debrief the Terms of Service is a great idea, however, should be read with caution and after reading through the actual Terms of Service. As a Pinterest user, I look at the “more simply put” as an abstract. It’s the basic gist of what’s about to come in the actual report. You can’t read the abstract and know the important details of the research. In order to fully understand the concept, you must read the actual research itself. More simply put, actually read the Terms of Services.

Meg S.

The Official Style in Ancient Rome

By Hillary L.

            The Romans of the ancient past were obsessed with building an empire comprised of men and women who displayed every characteristic of good Roman citizenship. Titus Livius, better known as Livy, was an ancient Roman historian who used five Latin words to describe these characteristics: gravitas, pietas, virtus, industria and constantia. The first characteristic, gravitas, is translated to mean seriousness. The second, pietas, meant duty to family and to country. Virtus is the Latin word denoting the belief that the weak should be conquered by the strong.  The fourth characteristic is the ability to be hardworking at survival, or industria, and the last word, constantia, is the ability to be fiercest when faced with extinction.  The Romans regarded these qualities as being nothing short of holy, but such was also their reputation. Therefore, in order to maintain Rome's place of power, a set of laws were established in order to produce true roman citizens and to purge from their ranks any spot or blemish that would compromise their good name. However, the Romans also valued justice, and to be considered barbaric and unjust would be shameful, which in their culture was worse than death. So they had to come up with a way to justify their power, no matter what it cost. The result was a strategic use of the official style by Roman lawmakers. Yes, I am afraid the gods of antiquity gained their powerful empire through complex sentences, bureaucratic language, and euphemisms. Yet with every word they sought to enforce one of the qualities of a good Roman citizen, and while all five can be found in the laws, I have chosen three examples highlighting virtus, industria and constantia.
            In the opening section of The Enactments of Justinian: The Digest or Pandects Book 1, the Romans define two categories of laws: laws that are enforced by nature, called the Law of Nations, and laws that are enforced by a state, called the Civil Law.

All nations who are ruled by law and customs make use partly of their own law, and partly of that which is common to all men. For whatever law any people has established for itself is peculiar to that State, and is called the Civil Law, as being the particular law of that state. But whatever natural reason has established among all men is equally observed by all mankind, and is called the Law of Nations, because it is the law which all nations employ.

The author is manipulating the then common belief that all of mankind is bound by a set of laws enforced by nature. Rome was not the first to claim the existence of these laws, but they were most certainly ones to enforce them. You see, the Law of Nations justifies virtus, the conquering of the weak by the strong, and so by establishing its credibility the Romans could defend themselves when they waged war against another nation simply because that particular group of people was smaller or weaker than them. But the author was careful about the way he structured the sentences because although the Romans valued the Law of Nations, they needed to ensure that the nations they conquered also valued those laws. For example, he generalized his audience by beginning the statement with, "All nations who are ruled by law and customs..." and this created an ultimatum for any nation not under Rome. Either they considered themselves a nation ruled by law and customs- an honorable nation- or they considered themselves barbarians- uncivilized and uncouth. In a culture that sought to fortify itself against shame and dishonor, the nation would have to proclaim itself ruled by laws and customs. The above passage would then apply to the conquered people and they would have no grounds on which to deny the justice or the virtus of Rome. 
            In another example, we come face to face with industria, the ability of the Roman people to survive.
When children are born in lawful marriage they follow the condition of the father, but one that is conceived in promiscuous intercourse follows the condition of the mother.

In antiquity, a family line was considered to be of the utmost importance. Authors of the books of the Bible put great effort into establishing a lineage that began with Abraham in order to prove the Messiah to be descendant of the line of Judah. The Romans put an equal effort into establishing a pure ancestry. In antiquity, there was a heavy weight placed upon a person's family history. If a person was unable to show who their father was, there was no way of knowing whether the blood that ran through their veins was good, clean, Roman blood, or evil, dirty, Etruscan blood (the Etruscans being a neighboring group who were not on good terms with Rome.) Therefore, in order to maintain pure Roman citizenship, the lawmakers turn once more to vague, meaningless terms. For example, you might be wondering what the word "condition" could entail when it is applied to a man versus a woman. For all we know, the father's condition could be worse or on equal terms with the mother's, but have no fear! In anticipation of your inquiry, the lawmakers have provided the reader with a simple explanation:

            In many parts of our law the condition of women is worse than that of men.

 So there you have it, a wonderfully vague and shapeless explanation of what is meant when the author uses the word "condition" to explain a wonderfully vague and shapeless law. What is gained by doing this? The answer is quite simple. Say a man from a neighboring country was to try and lay claim on a piece of the Roman Empire because he impregnated one of the women in Rome, making the line that followed rightfully his. The Romans could pull out their handy law book and have a good laugh because the child followed the condition of the mother- which is an insulting condition to follow- and was furthermore not considered to be a valid Roman citizen. No man would want to lay claim to such a line. And vice versa, the Romans have created a lineage that is bred pure and strong and consequently enforces the survival of their nation and their reputation.
            I find it important to note, as we continue forward in this argument, that not all characteristics valued by the Romans are learned and in fact, some of them depend upon a person's nature at birth. This is the case with constantia, which required good Roman citizens to be tenacious and fierce then faced with extinction. In a person who is born healthy both mentally and physically, this can be taught and learned throughout their life. However, any person born with a mental or physical disability who requires constant attention in order to survive would not be able to display tenacity and would therefore be useless to Rome. So under the section of the laws concerning the condition (there's that word again!) of men, the author addresses this issue.
Those beings are not children who are born formed in some way which is contrary to the likeness of the human race; as, for instance, where a woman brings forth something monstrous or unnatural.

Acknowledging the fact that this passage is politically incorrect in our society and culture today, I ask that you look beyond that to see the desire of the Romans to be considered a strong and unwavering force. Above all examples I have provided thus far, this passage is thick with the official style. It is passive, shapeless, verbose, euphemistic, complex and slow. And while I'm sure the official style can be used for good that is certainly not the case for this particular passage. The ultimate goal in the passage is to ensure that no person with a physical or mental disability is considered a Roman citizen. However, to state this would be to act in an unjust manner towards another human being, so in order to justify their thoughts and actions, the Romans devised a law that sought to regard any person with a disability as inhuman. The most prominent strategy employed by the lawmakers was to create passivity within the text and to disconnect the subject from the verb. At first glance, second glance and probably still at the third glance, the reader assumes the subject of the sentence to be "those beings," but they would be incorrect. There are actually 27 words written before you ever reach the subject, which is "a woman." The sentence is structured so that it starts with the receiver of the action, then gives the action, then further describes the receiver of the action, then gives the subject, then repeats the action in a different way, then again states the receiver of the action. This is tricky to describe, so below I have devised a chart that highlights each aspect of the sentence.
The Receiving Subject
Those beings formed in some way which is contrary to the likeness of the human race or something monstrous or unnatural
The Verb
are born or brings forth
The Acting Subject
a woman

If we take the information from the table above and use it to recreate the original sentence we end up with something like, "When a woman gives birth to something monstrous, unnatural, or formed contrary to the likeness of the human race, that being is not considered a child." By finding the subject, verb and receiving subject we have already created a clearer and more fluent sentence. However, there is still more dissecting to be done. Although it is much easier to understand, the sentence is still verbose and unspeakable. To break it down even farther, we have to remember that the goal of this law is to justify the exiling of these children from the human race, and the words "monstrous" and "unnatural" are too vague and general to accomplish this. Instead, the author best describes the children (or "beings") as "formed in some way which is contrary to the likeness of the human race." This statement is not as vague as the others mentioned above, but it is vague enough to include a large variety of disabilities. In the end, we are able to break the sentence down to say, "When a women gives birth to a being whose formation is contrary to that of the human race, the being is not considered a child."  Now the passage is much shorter and much clearer. However, it attaches a Roman mother to a child they wanted nothing to do with. In the original quote, the writer had successfully detached all Roman ties to the child by placing the verb after the receiver and before the subject, and this allowed him to better accomplish the ultimate goal, that is, to eliminate all possible means to extinction.
            Around the year 321 B.C., the Romans found themselves cornered in a place called the Caudine Forks. With no hope of escaping or of retaliating against an army much larger than their own, they were forced to surrender. A treaty called the Caudine Peace was agreed upon, but in order to formally pledge themselves to the treaty, the Romans were forced by the enemy to go under the yoke. This meant that one by one, the Roman soldiers had to walk under the enemies raised swords. Livy spoke of it like this, "Thus they were sent under the yoke and, what was almost harder to bear, in full view of their enemies. When they came out of the pass, they seemed like men brought back from the dead, seeing the light for the first time; yet the real light which showed them their ranks so disgraced was grimmer than any death." The shame and dishonor felt by the Romans in that moment deemed the Caudine Peace to be, in their opinion, one of the darkest moments of their history. In that hour there was not one man among them who could be considered a good Roman citizen. Pride was respectable, strength was valued and honor was the most prized possession any Roman could have. Without these values rooted in every aspect of their lives, the Romans would have failed just as they did at the Caudine Forks, and they would never have risen to be the great empire they once were. That is why the values of gravitas, pietas, virtus, industria and constantia are ingrained in every piece of literature they created. Their laws may cause us to believe that they were barbaric and cruel, but their goals were to be the exact opposite. They were a people driven by pride and by their strength. They were obsessed with power, but they were also obsessed with justice. Edward Bulwer-Lytton once said, "The pen is mightier than the sword," and in Rome, this was quite true, for it was the pen that justified the powerful actions of the sword and allowed Rome to build itself up until it became the most powerful empire the world has ever seen.

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