Thursday, March 27, 2014

The myth of official style

Official style has become a solid system in the world. The majority of people prefer to write in official style in order to gain credibility and authority such as academic articles and government documents. However, most of them feel reluctant to read in official style because it is hard and time-consuming for them to fully understand. Official style stands in an awkward position. What makes official style become so mythological? What’s the actual benefit of official style? Does it offer information to readers? I want to use a specific example to deconstruct the myth of official style.
In the home page of Murphy library, there is a given statement: about assessment, which includes two sections. One is library department assessment of student learning, the other one is Murphy library evidence-based decision making. Basically, the assessment is an evaluation of student program-CST 110 of UW-L. The first section is about what students can gain from this program and how library department helps students to search needed information effectively. The second section indicates that the department of Murphy Library makes decision based on evidence. Each section contains four or five paragraphs.
What impresses me is that, on the whole, each paragraph consists of no more than three sentences, no matter how long the paragraph is. Take the ninth paragraph as example: “The library’s collection of information resources comprises the foundation of our role in the educational mission of UW-L. Whether in the classroom, at the reference desk, or in the provision of other programs and services, the adequacy and effectiveness of the library collection is directly experienced by librarians in our ability to meet the specific information resource needs of the community. Gaps uncovered in the collections may be addressed with new library purchases initiated as the direct result of librarians working with faculty or students in support of specific research projects or assignments.”  With a Flesch-Kincaid Reading ease score of 18.9, an average grade level of 18.8, and 31.7 words per sentences, these three sentences stand out because of their complicated grammar structures as well as various characteristics of official style. For example, the majority of words are nouns except for three verbs “comprise”, “experience” “address” and a few prepositions as well as conjunctions. The abuse of nominalization perplexes the sentences. I have to spend much more time to break down the structure, to identify predicates. What’s more, the repetition of derivational affixes “ion” makes the sentences become more verbose and abstract such as “collection, information, foundation, educational, mission and provision.” Furthermore, these three sentences are basically coordinated by prepositional phrases. For instance, “in the provision of, needs of, result of, in the classroom, at the reference desk, in support of” seems to impart the sentences with continuity and integrality. However, it turns out to be opposite because readers may feel confused and fuzzy. They don’t even get the point of the presented information, so it will be less chances for them to notice the so-called “continuity and integrality” of the official style. In fact, some of the prepositional phrases can totally be replaced by simple verbs. To illustrate, we can substitute “in support of” with “support”. In this way, we can know the core action of the sentences instead of breaking down the whole structure. Other than the characteristics of official style I mentioned above, the excerpts also use passive voice, infinitive phrases and participle phrases.
It is hard to image that only three sentences concentrate so many elements of official style. Writing in an official style, apparently, limits the readability. Too much nouns plus complex syntax as well as complicated words definitely make the sentences become rather tricky. The sentence seems no predicts at all, and I think it is too long for me to read through it with patience. There are lots of ambiguities in terms of grammar and word definition presented in the sentence. For example, “Whether in the classroom, at the reference desk, or in the provision of other programs and services, the adequacy and effectiveness of the library collection is directly experienced by librarians in our ability to meet the specific information resource needs of the community.” I have tried to read this for several times, but I am still confused by the part “in our ability to meet…” because I don’t know how to locate the modifiers within the sentence.
However, as an international student in UW-L, I have to admit that I do feel the assessment was credible and authoritative even though I don’t fully understand what it talks about at the first sight. There are three reasons for me to draw this conclusion. First, as a non-native speaker, I don’t have much confidence in English. Secondly, I assume that the people who write this assessment have a higher-level educational background than me. Thirdly, I relate the assessment to the bureaucratic image of department of Murphy Library. But I begin to wonder where the point is if I don’t understand the meaning of the sentences first. I don’t know what can I get out from this CST projects and I even don’t know how to ask librarians for help. To me, the credibility of assessment is completely meaningless because it can’t help me to learn something really practical. I am excluded by the department of Murphy Library.
Anyone who has access to the website would be the readers. In addition to international students, the undergraduates are also the victims. As we can see from the statistics, the average level is pretty high. The undergraduates especially freshmen will have trouble understanding the assessment thoroughly. Most of them are not willing to spending much time reading an assessment that is not the assigned homework. Furthermore, the difficulty of official style blocks the students with interests to read these pieces of information. Here comes the problem, what’s the purpose of the assessment? Who are the target audiences? But who can really understand the assessment actually?
I think that official style is born for a certain type of readers. The purpose of office style is measured by its target audience. To illustrate, the purpose of the assessment is to provide information about the benefits of this project, how this project works, and outcome of the project. The target audiences should be the undergraduates no matter international students or native students.  Ironically, the usage of official style excludes its target audiences to some extent. Even though professors and librarians can understand the assessment, they are not the people who can benefit from this program. Obviously, the people who write this assessment focus on the “authority” of being an intellectual rather than take the audiences into consideration.
As readers, we should think and read beyond the myth of official style. The most important point for us is to understand, to save time to learn as much as we can. We shouldn’t be blinded by the privilege of official style. It is unnecessary for us to research the empty words. Instead, we want to create a new straight literary system to convey our information.
By Chuying Liang

Official style in daily life

As we all know, writing plays an important part in our daily life that we human beings cannot live without it in every day. There are three writing styles, official style, creative style and plain style respectively. Different activity systems use different writing styles are what people usually do. Why they use writing styles in different way? Why cannot people all write in a simple way so that every one can understand it and communicate in an easy way? Why people in different occasions need to use different writing styles? As a university student, those three writing styles surround my life every day.

 On one hand, when I start my presentation, I use creative style which is a style full of creative language like funny story and research data to support my perspectives so that I can both attract people’s attention and support my supporting points in the same time. On the other hand, when I write letter to my mom, write drama, poem, common in-class short paper, fiction, I use plain style because plain style save time and plain style can show your emotion to others in a directly way so that people can translate their emotion in a fast, direct and strong way. However, as a low lever member of high educators, we university students need to read academic article, newspaper, write academic paper and send academic email to our professor. What we need to do is because of our education, we are no longer be a low educator, how to broaden our horizons and improve our writing abilities are our study goal. Writing and reading official styles is one of the way to recognize our high educators from low educators. As a long complex sentence, does official style really indeed in our daily life? Why there is a large number of authors are willing to write articles in using official style?
Early this semester, we received an email from President Joe Gow which the content was about cancel class. The email which he sent us was an official style email which started by prepositional phrases “due to”. The second sentence and third sentence were made up of passive sentences. This cancel class activity was made by President Joe. However, during the whole email, he uses passive voice to announce this news to us in a formal way which was one kind of official style. Why President Joe used element of the official style in this case? Formal style is probably true because as the leader of UWL, he needed to be official to announce news so that students and colleagues will pay attention to the news that can make President Joe handle affairs in a controlling way. Besides, the notification is formal, the position of president is formal. Thus, President Joe needs to send official style email to us. Another example is in the beginning of this semester in this class, we learned the character of high grade level articles and read an example of long complex sentence which average grade level is 45.8. “A policy decision inexorably enforced upon a depression-prone individual whose posture in respect to his total psychophysical environment is rendered antagonistic by apprehension or by inner-motivated disinclination for ongoing participation in human existence is the necessity for effectuating a positive selection between two alternative programs of action, namely, (a) the continuance of the above-mentioned existence irrespective of the dislocations, dissatisfactions, and disabilities incurred in such a mode, or (b) the voluntary termination of such existence by self-initiated instrumentality, irrespective in this instance of the undetermined character of the subsequent environment, if any, in which the subject may be position as an end result of this irrevocable determination.” According to this whole long complicated sentence, we can easily find out the elements of the official style. First, passive voice and impersonal, the sentence’s subject is a policy decision which did not connect with personal idea or personal choice. What the author says is very impersonal and based on physical environment. Second, it is a long complex sentence which full of technical terms. Third, verbs and nouns in this long complex sentence are changed into another uncommon using way which is latinate diction and nominalization. Depress turns to depression, psycho turns to psychophysical, motivate turns to inner-motivated, participate turns to participation etc. Fourth, verbose and bureaucratic which in this sentence is very outstanding. The whole sentence is complex and verbose and filled with explanation. Lastly, it explains how a policy decision was hold by in a euphemism way which relate to the ladder of abstraction.

 Official style surrounds in our daily life and we cannot live without it. Although there are many conflicts between official styles and plain style. People would rather read plain style than official style because plain style is easy to understand and save people’s time, official writing styles are boring, complex, wasting time and sometimes makes people feel confuse and unnecessary to read it. However, every corn has two sides, official style still have his own advantages which can make people think highly of it so that people can recognize important information and common information. What is more, official style is an important way to communicate with high educators which is the way not only to help to communicate but also help to broaden education career. In a word, as on of an essential part in writing style, official style cannot live without ours and we need official style.       

                                                                                                                        Yi Huang

Plain Style

This study investigated whether emotional facial expressions can be accurately identified in peripheral vision, how much recognition is impaired relative to central vision, and what mechanisms account for the recognition advantage of some expressions. / In most of the prior studies, the face stimuli have been presented at fixation and thus available to foveal vision. However, little is known about facial expression processing in the visual periphery before the faces are fixated. / This issue is theoretically important because it deals with the processing of social signals outside the focus of overt attention with the low-resolution peripheral retina, the extent to which expression encoding is affected by stimulus eccentricity, and how much recognition performance varies with type of expression under impoverished perceptual conditions. / This issue has also practical implications because, in real-life social settings, faces often appear initially in the visual periphery, among other objects or within a group of people. It would thus be highly beneficial if the cognitive system could extract expression information before the eyes land on the face: This would facilitate early attentional selection, orienting to, and processing of the most relevant faces among the multiple, simultaneously occurring stimuli, and, as a consequence, allow viewers to react promptly with preparatory adaptive behavior to important social cues.

Original Article:
Facial expression recognition in peripheral versus central vision: role of the eyes and the mouth

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A grade level (based on the USA education system) is equivalent to the number of years of education a person has had. Scores over 22 should generally be taken to mean graduate level text.
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The role of official language
This psychological research was published in 2013. The full title is also the research topic-- “Facial expression recognition in peripheral versus central vision: role of eyes and the mouth.” The main thesis is talking about “how peripheral vision influence people to be identified.”As psychological research, it should use official language to interpret theoretical approaches and analyze the research results for some professional psychologists. As a science article about “facial expression” in a magazine, it has arouse a wild public concern because it is a popular topic which really close to our daily life that every day we have chances to meet new friends and we desire to know how to use our facial expression to give other people a good impression. From this research, the author wanted the readers to know not only how their five sense organs influence their facial expression, but also how to use their facial expression to get this good impression. Searching some information about the main readers of this psychological research, it was popular in people who want to find a job these days or want to improve their social competence because by learning how to use facial expression, they can learn how to make a friendly expression and make other people feel comfortable. Considering about the different audience just like learners or jodhunters, researchers will know it is not easy to write only use one kind of language.
This research was finished by three famous scientists who are also the professors in the universities, and they have published a lot of papers and researches before. They are good at analyzing the face perception and the connection with social work. At the first page, their information is in the footnotes which include their working locations and their e-mail addresses. The research was based on their working places—universities which would provide enough theoretical support and technical assistance. From the “Acknowledgments” before the reference page, the authors expressed gratitude to the company which gave the financial support, and the funds which helped the research to get more professional equipments and results. This background made this research full of authority. Authors for readers to consider, they give their e-mail addresses in order to get the feedback and questions from the readers. This is the follow-up step for a science research.
The research includes three main parts, abstract, introduction and experiments. The abstract part focuses on the whole research’s results. If people don’t have enough time to read the whole research or they want to judge whether the research will supply the knowledge which they want to learn, this abstract part is a good choice to read because they can get the abstract points of the article, and it will help them to think about whether they need to continue to read it. Short languages are the best choices to use for conclusions because conclusions need to be clear, short and easy to understand. Experiment part focuses on the concrete steps for experiment and the comparison for the results. This part which includes research methods, procedures, measures and results, is prepared for some professional learners. It concludes some mathematical linguistics and graphical analysis. I choose “Introduction” -----the most important part of the research because it includes the general summary of the experimental purpose and value of the research. As the first part read by readers, introduction needs describe the psychological research clearly because there are many scientific language descriptions in the research which is difficult to understand as an unprofessional reader. Authority and scientificity are necessary for a psychological research because it decides whether people want to read or not and how much they want to believe. A good introduction will attract more readers to read it. Language in this part needs to be more forma,l and official language will help to achieve the goal because using official language will get rid of the personal view of authors and increase its professional. The most efficient way to use official language is using impersonal and passive words. Sometimes, “professional words” can also help us get more authority. Even though we need to use official language when we write a research, it doesn’t mean that we need to make every sentence into official language. In my opinion, when we write research, we need use official language as main part, but some short and simple language to explain some issue more clearly.
I separate this Introduction into four parts and indicate them with “/”.  First part is talking about the purposes of the research. This is a long sentence which includes three clauses to indicate the subtitle of the research. The character of this sentence is “easy to learn.” This sentence doesn’t obey the rule of official language because it is a long sentence but it is easy to read. In order for different people’s reading levels, some simple sentences will get an efficient work.  A part of readers are not professional learners or scientists, and they are not interested in how to proof this result. They just want to know how to get a better facial expression. So some direct language plays an important role. Revealing all specific research database for professional psychologists is important, it is also necessary to use simple words to explain the whole research to the people who are just interested in this research. When students write some research, they would like to try our best using some official language. They make all sentences complex and difficult to read. Actually, short sentence make the article more clearly. So this beginning summary is necessary to give specific description to all readers.
The second part points some unknown knowledge about facial expression which attract the readers to continue to read. The author begins with “The most of the prior studies”, this sentence can increase the authority of this psychological research because this is an objective evidence. Authority is one way to show official style. This sentence is regarded as an obvious evidence or knowledge and increase the reliability of the text. Next sentence begins with “little is known,” this is a typical official style which is changed from “we know little about.” In order to increasing the authority of the research, we need to use passive voice like this, especially impersonal. Passive voice directly connects with authority because passive voice helps authors to get rid of the first person. When we use too much first person, it will make the research more like a personal analysis but not a scientific study. Using the passive voice is the simplest way to make a common voice to official language. This is so important because we need to share the results from the science perspective but not a personal view. Nobody will believe a research which has no scientific evidence.
The third part is talking about the importance of the study. It began with “This issue is theoretically important.” This is also a official style because the formal style is “ This issue is important in the theory.” The word “theoretically” is not common to a speech, it is a written word used increase the authority of this research. In common life, we won’t communicate with this high level adverb. When we change theory to the form of adverb, we make the sentence more complex because we add more modifiers. This whole sentence is a totally complex sentence because it is long and full of many structures.
 The forth part is talking about the value of this research. It is a common way to use official language, like “It would be highly beneficial…” We are used to talking like “we will get benefit when we…” From this transfer, we can see the author uses official language often, especially he focuses on the impersonal. Decreasing some subjective description is a good choice in a research article.
From this psychological research, I get some conclusions. First, official language is necessary when we write some papers, reviews or critiques, but we need to connect official language with simple language. Trying to make all sentences become official sentences is not a perfect choice. Second, passive voice is the simplest way to use official language. We need to explain some ideas from objective perspective. Just like the example, “we know little about that”, we transfer it to “little is known that.” We get rid of the word “we” to make the sentence more authority and powerful. In the research, there are many data analysis and math equations. So a clear introduction helps readers to understand it well. The only question is about the difference between abstract and introduction I think there are some same ideas in abstract and introduction. Both of them include some general ideas about the whole research but the author still want to separate them. It seems to be a conflict of the research. I think the difference is that abstract use simple language for the whole part, so from this view, how to distribute the official language part and plain English part in a psychological research? In a psychological research, why does the author choose to use official language? Do you think that someday the official language will be replaced and we can use a simple way to show some results?
For the whole research, we can see even it is a professional psychological research, it still clear for all readers because the author is good at choosing language. It has the part which prepared for common readers and the part for professional learners. It has a high value in today’s society because people in today’s society pay more attention on their appearance especially on their face. We can also read the value of the official language. Official language helps the professional paper become more efficient and get more power.
                                                                                                           ZEYAO WU

The Use of Original Style and the Effect it Can Have On Audience

            The profession of teaching is a vital part of our nation’s future through providing students with the skills and knowledge required in order to be a productive member of today’s society.  Therefore, educators are under constant scrutiny from not only parents, administrators, and students, but from groups at the governmental level as well, such as the Department of Education.  Although views regarding teaching strategies and what content is relevant to student success is constantly changing, the belief that educators, as a crucial member of society, are expected to behave with the highest professional standards.  In order to fulfill this guideline, a Code of Conduct for educators was created and is a crucial part in today’s quality of public education.  The National Education Association, an advocate for children’s right to an education and better working conditions for teachers, created this Code of Conduct.  Although the Code is not great in length, it absolutely defines the professional expectations of educators with regards to not only their profession, but for their students as well.  Through the usage of “Official Style,” the National Education Association has been able to not only make their beliefs apparent to those interested in the prose, but to protect their own interests, as well as those of the Board of Education and the National Teachers Association as well. 
            In 1975 the Code of Conduct for educators was adopted by the National Education Association, or NEC, in order to act as a crusade for the rights of all educators and children.  Not only has this group created a united voice for public education, but it also plays a crucial role in improving the conditions under which teachers work and children learn.  In fact, the NEC is the nation’s largest professional employee organization, with organizations in every state.  This group also pushed for a national Department of Education, which lead to the funding of training programs for teachers and creating equal educational opportunities for all children.  Members of the NEC include students, substitute teachers, administrators, Education Support Professionals, higher education faculty and staff, and also retired people of these professions.  Since the NEA is composed of representatives from multiple roles in education it may be assumed that the goals and beliefs of the NEA, including the Code of Conduct, are therefore shared by the majority of the profession.  The creation of the Code of Conduct may therefore be viewed as a tool for making the beliefs and expectations of members’ of the NEA apparent for past, present, and future teachers.  Ultimately however, being a member of the NEC does not mean that one will take part in the decision-making process.  Decisions are made by the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee, as well as individuals selected as President, Vice President, Secretary-Treasurer, and Executive Director of the Association.  These positions are first elected by members of the NEA at both the state and local level to become a Representative Assembly delegate.  These delegates then elect the previously listed top officers. Therefore, with this information in mind, it may be fair to question the idea that the Code was created to push a certain agenda that the Association had, or in other words, the views that those first elected held.  We must also consider the role of the government in education and how such influences from this group had on the contents of the code as well.  The outcome of the code is unmistakably clear; all professional educators need to not only adopt these beliefs and views, but to abide by these regulations in order to appropriately embody the responsibilities of a successful educator. 
            After an understanding of the context of the prose and the various activity systems involved, we are able to analyze the usage of a distant tone and complex sentences, in order to protect private interests of the NEA.  The first example of such writing is found at the very beginning of the code in the Preamble section.  “The National Education Association believes that the education profession consists of one education workforce serving the needs of all students and that the term ‘educator’ includes education support professionals.”  This introductory sentence is an example of a relative clause, which defines who an educator is, and is also a tool of the “Official Style” of writing.  We again see the usage of complex sentences in the next sentence as well: “The educator, believing in the worth and dignity of each human being, recognizes the supreme importance of the pursuit of truth, devotion to excellence, and the nurture of the democratic principles.”  This sentence is an example of a participial phrase, which again is a tool of the “Original Style.” Writing an introduction like this is not only setting the standard for the remaining prose, as well as the style of the writing.
            Word choice such as: “the educator,” is found throughout the prose, giving it a very generic, professional tone.  The obvious reason for utilizing such would choice in order to create professionalism is so that the prose will come across as credible and worthy of reading.  Also, considering that the NEA is an association that is affiliated with the government, it gives a more official feel to the prose as well.  On the other hand, such word choice also creates a distance between the reader and the text.  It is possible that the NEA wrote with this distant tone to not only remain professional and bureaucratic, but to remind the audience that all educators need to share the same beliefs and values and that those values are already predetermined by the Board of Directors as well as the Executive Committee of the NEA. 
            While considering the various activity systems associated with the code, the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee of the NEA, as well as their elected officials and members, it is reasonable to believe that the intended audience for this prose is most likely someone associated with education in some aspect.  Therefore, with this in mind, the introduction seems somewhat redundant, and causes question as to why the NEA felt the need to define something that should already be clear.   One possibility is that it was included because the NEA wanted to have one finite definition for all members of the various activity systems surrounding not only the NEA, but education as well.  Therefore, it may have been included so that educators as well as members of the NEA not only learn such a definition, but begin to use it in future discussions regarding the role of an educator, which would create a more universal definition.  Another possibility is that the NEA wrote such an introduction because it is the definition that the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee members believe, and therefore was included with the intent to push their belief upon the audience.  As stated previously, becoming a member of the NEA does not mean that you are a part of the decision-making process, and that only those elected do.  With this information in mind, it may be said that the definition was included in order to push a political agenda held by the elected officials of the NEA.  Yet another possibility may be that a parent who has a student enrolled in public education is reading the code to ensure that their child is getting the best education possible.  With this is mind; it may be safe to say that a parent knows less about the role of an educator, other than the fact that an educator is someone who teaches.  Therefore, it would be necessary for the NEA and its various directors and committee members to explicitly state who an educator is.  If this reasoning were to be found true then it may be said that the NEA wrote such an introduction with the intent to not only clarify, but to bring an understanding of the role of an educator to an audience that would include those not associated with the education profession.  To be fair, any one of these reasons are possible, and it nearly impossible to know the intent for including it without asking the writers of the code. 
            The second sentence in the introduction also causes question as to what the intent was for being included in the code.  For example, shouldn’t “believing in the worth and dignity of each human being,” be a trait that humans in general, not only educators, hold?  Even if this isn’t a universal belief that all human beings should hold, one would like to think that someone associated with education and the activity systems surrounding the NEA would sure believe such.  With this in mind, the word choice of that sentence may send off a belittling effect upon the reader of the code and send an off-putting message.  Then again, it is widely known that there are educators out there that do not share this belief, so the NEA may have felt it pertinent to include in the code. 
            Following the code is two Principle sections, each of which includes a definition of the principle followed by a numbered list of guidelines that an educator needs to follow in order to fulfill that principle.  Principle I places focus on the objectives that a teacher must follow in order to be fully committed to the student, whereas Principle II defines the commitment an educator must have with regards to the profession.  Again, considering that the most likely audience for this code would be those involved with education, it may seem belittling to some readers to include guidelines that would seem obvious before even reading the prose.  It is possible that the elected officials of the NEA felt the need to include such guidelines because they were not confident that all educators were implementing those guidelines, and therefore listed them with the hope that all educators would begin to utilize them if they were not already doing so.  On the other hand, it may be that those are guidelines that the elected officials deem important, once again reinforcing their political agenda. Then again, for a parent who is reading the code, these guidelines may not be as obvious, and therefore the inclusion of such was so that they can have a clear understanding as well.  Regardless of what the intent behind including such explicit guidelines within in the code were, it is clear that those elected to positions within the NEA felt them to be appropriate enough to include.  What was the reasoning behind the NEA including such guidelines?  Why did the Board of Directors and Executive Committee feel that these were so important? 
            Looking at the lists of guidelines further reveals an uncanny resemblance to the Ten Commandments, not only because of the numbering, but because of the word choice used as well.  Did the NEA and its elected officials intentionally write this way with the Bible in mind, meaning that there is not only a political agenda but a religious one as well?  Or, was this word choice used because of the time that the code was written and that the NEA believed that this was the best way to clearly list the guidelines of a successful teacher? 
Whether intentional or unintentional, the continuous use of the word: “shall not,” may not sit well with some audiences considering that it creates the allusion of a religious aspect.  This is somewhat ironic considering the separation of church and state, and it is curious as to why this aspect of the code has not been rewritten or updated as of yet. 

            Although there are varying intentions of the NEA and the text of the code, it was written with good intentions, to clearly define the role of an educator and the guidelines that one must follow in order to do so.  Through utilizing the “Official Style” of writing by including complex sentences, specific word choice, and a distant tone, the NEA has been able to create a piece of writing that has been utilized and followed for many years by many people associated with the activity systems surrounding all aspects of education.  The reason for this being so is because through this form of writing the NEA was able to create a credible prose that would find merit with the activity systems not only surrounding the NEA, but to those of education as well.   With that being said, it isn’t the form of writing that causes issue for some, but with the unknown and hidden intent behind the specific word choice, the distant tone, and the actual content of the code.  It is only through viewing and analyzing the prose from the viewpoints of the various activity systems surrounding the code that we are able to come up with possible reasons.  However, if we look back at the activity systems surrounding the NEA, it is clear that they are nearly all associated with the education profession, which causes question as to why the code has not been revised.  It is possible that such redundant, explicit guidelines were necessary at one time to ensure the success of public education, but considering that teaching methods and standards are continuously changing it is curious as to why the code hasn’t changed too.

-Celine W

The Official Style

The Official Style
As students and teachers at the collegiate level we are bombarded with texts written in what we refer to as the official style. We read text book after text book, journal after journal, and essays upon essays all written in a structured, scholarly form using copious amounts of jargon, technical terminology and words that are longer than their definitions. While other styles such as the plain style or the creative style are usually simpler and more enjoyable to read, the official style is often viewed as the most credible and organized approach to presenting academic information. I would not disagree with this perspective, but this brand of writing must be used in the appropriate context and produced with consideration for the reader. In this semi-formal discussion I will be analyzing an excerpt from Baugh and Cable’s “A History of the English Language” which demonstrates an execrable use of the official style, both in terms of its contextual applications as well as the clarity of the text’s main points. Although I will highlight a few elements of sentence structure and strategies, the main focus will be to identify the flaws in this text as it relates to the target audience within its academic context. It is important to note that, for our purposes here the target audience will be novice students of Old English. In addition, I will explore potential improvements that could be made including structure and prose strategies and then conclude with a glance at opposing perspectives and why, although relevant under certain circumstances, these counter arguments are invalid under the claims, assumptions and paradigms that are outlined in this critique.
Lets assume that the primary function of the official style, at least in academia, is to provide a clear and definitive explanation of information. The success of this form of writing is determined by a myriad of factors, the most crucial of which are context and structure. Let me paint you a picture of the contextual components that surround our text. This book was written for use in college classrooms, to be taught to students with little or no experience regarding the evolution of the English language and instructed by English professors with an expertise in Old English, Middle English and Modern English. We know that this text is directed toward novice Old English learners based on both the course description and the content of this book which focuses on the changes that have occurred in the English language over time and presents only  rudimentary information about how the former structure, alphabet, spelling and grammar of our language once functioned. Here is a sample from our chosen excerpt that attempts to introduce these changes: 

[Within the Indo-European family of languages, it happens that the oldest, classical languages—Sanskrit, Greek, and Latin—have inflections of the noun, the adjective, the verb, and to some extent the pronoun that are no longer found in modern languages such as Russian or French or German.]

Because we are focusing on the novice student reader, who has a fairly limited understanding of classical languages and how they relate to English, this sentence provides us with essentially zero comprehensible information. For starters, we have no idea what nouns, adjectives or verbs look like in those languages, let alone how they were used. Beyond that, the writer has jumped into the changes associated with inflectional simplicity without presenting us with so much as a preliminary definition of the central term. But, for the sake of argument let’s assume that this definition is forthcoming and stop to identify some key sentence strategies that are at play in this sentence. The first flaw that anyone reading this passage will notice, especially if you are reading the surrounding segments of the book, is that the writer adds a great deal of words where none are needed. This sentence starts with the prepositional phrase “[w]ithin the Indo-European family of languages…” followed by our first unnecessary, expletive phrase (see what I did there) “…it happens that the oldest,…” which serves as one of a number of expletives found in this piece and one of two in this sentence alone. The rest of the sentence serves mostly to waste our time. “…, classical languages - Sanskrit, Greek, and latin - have inflections of the noun, the adjective, the verb, and to some extent the pronoun that are no longer found in modern languages such as Russian or French or German.” The useless appositive, “…,classical languages - Sanskrit, Greek and Latin - …”  is again, gratuitous as is the second expletive, “…,and to some extent the pronoun…” Not only is this filler a pointless waste of space, but seeing as the writer never mentions pronouns again, here or later in his attempted definition, the point must be germane and therefore was not worth mentioning to the reader. Extraneous information is just as tedious, frustrating and misleading as an unwarranted word count. To reinforce this point we can paraphrase the sentence as it would look without the added words and information. Sanskrit, Greek and Latin have inflections of the nouns, adjectives and verbs, which are no longer found in modern languages. 
After sixteen more purposeless words, the author begins his attempt to define inflectional simplicity (half a page after the term was introduced). After running this text through the Flesch-Kincaid readability calculator we have a score of 37.1 out of 100. (Imagine if that was your exam grade!) I feel the easiest way to demonstrate the salience of such a lack of readability, especially for a student who is trying to learn this information, will be to have you to read the “definition” of inflectional simplicity as it has been laid out by the authors. Try to gage how easily you grasp their main points and/or if you can, after reading, give your own definition of the term. Okay, here it is: 
[Inflections in the noun as spoken have been reduced to a sign of the plural and a form for the possessive case. The elaborate Germanic infection of the adjective has been completely eliminated except for the simple indication of the comparative and superlative degree. The verb has been simplified by the loss of practically all the personal endings, the almost complete abandonment of any distinction between the singular and the plural, and the gradual discard of the subjunctive mood.] 
And breath! This is as close as the writer ever comes to defining his term, yet he has not given one. He is still pointing out changes that have occurred over time, but has not provided us with a terminologically definitive foundation from which to build our understandings. He has put a roof over our heads, but forgot to build the walls that hold it up, leaving us metaphorically smushed. So, could you give me a definition of our term now that you have read this passage? Well, since our writers have denied you the privilege of understanding their own incoherence, I will provide you with a fundamental definition of inflectional simplicity. Remembering that we are operating within an academic activity system and keeping in mind that this course is not intent on teaching people to speak Old English, but simply to understand how it has evolved over time, the most appropriate definition would be; Inflectional simplicity refers to the gradual change in the English inflectional of nouns, adjectives, and verbs as it has evolved from its Germanic origins. With this definition fresh in your mind, let’s try to paraphrase the information in this three sentence description, along with the points from the first sentence that we analyzed, taking note of the continued use of unnecessary words and information. Then we will see if the concept makes more sense. 

As English has progressed from its Germanic origins, it has gained greater inflectional simplicity. The primary examples of note are the changes in nouns, adjectives and verbs. Noun inflections are now determined by the sign of the plural and the form for the possessive case. (e.g.) The inflection of the adjective has been mostly eliminated. (e.g.) The verbs have also been simplified in three core ways. First is the removal of personal endings (e.g.) The second change is a lack of distinction between the singular and the plural. (e.g.) Finally, there has been a gradual disregard for the subjunctive mood. (e.g.)  

The first three items you probably noticed here are A) my version is actually longer than the original by about thirty words. B) It is broken into eight sentences as opposed to three and C), the bold faced e.g. indicators without any examples. (Being a novice on the subject of Old English grammar I do not feel justified attempting to provide my own examples which may not be entirely accurate) So far our writers have consistently provided us with more words and information than were required. Now, at the moment where they needed to elaborate they give a succinct explanation. The reason my version is longer, and should be longer still, is that I separated my points sentence by sentence which gives the reader a clearer sense of what the relevant information is while also presenting it in a more obvious, extractable fashion. But, this explanation would be made even clearer if each point (noun, adjective and verb) were formatted in their own short paragraphs and included an example from Old English with one from Modern English to give the reader a useful demonstration of the changes they are referring to.(This being the purpose of the e.g. inserts) Of course, there are other approaches that may work such as a bulleted outline form, a point by point paragraph, even visual formats. (e.g. charts, tables, webs etc.)  
We now have an understanding of what the flaws in this text are, but we have only touched on why this piece fails to convey the information in an effective manor. For an Old English scholar or linguist I am sure this text makes perfect sense without modification. But this book was not created for people with an intrinsic understanding of the contributing components to changes in our language. Its target audience is students who have never worked with, or at best have only a modicum of previous exposure to versions of English other than their own. So, by writing in what is, for all intensive purposes a “Samuel-Beckettious” stream of consciousness style, the writers have created a text that is essentially useless to the reader. We can even forget about the fact that there sentences are wordy, their descriptions contain irrelevant information, and their key points fail to provide any useful examples. The fact is, as I demonstrated above, this entire page, which is well over three hundred words, can be easily compacted into about one hundred words. An indecipherable page turned into a utilitarian paragraph. If you asked me to re-write this section of the book I would most likely have introduced the topic using my paragraph from above, with the addition of the definition I provided for inflectional simplicity. This would take up about a quarter of a page, leaving me the option to include a bulleted outline of the most crucial information with simple descriptions and a demonstrative example for each point. This not only increases the readability of the text, but also substantially decreases the ambiguity of the information making the extraction of the essential points faster, more comprehensible and more memorable than it stands in its current form.
Now, there are multiple perspectives to consider when critiquing any text. In this case the two primary viewpoints to consider are that of the student and that of the teacher. As students we value speed, efficiency, clarity and understanding when we are dissecting our text books. Having information laid out in a form that allows us to quickly read and extract the testable points saves us time and confusion. On the other hand, a teacher, particularly one of the English persuasion, may place a greater responsibility on the student and less on the clarity of the text. They may want you to engage and interact with the information in a more abstract way with the belief that struggling through complex concepts will give you the opportunity to discover meaning through your own immersion in the reading and force you to define key points in your own terms. To that end, I completely agree. Surprised? Well, this approach is extremely useful and it does serve to increase ones reading comprehension and text dissection adroitness. 
But, as we have discussed multiple times, it is all about the paradigm, the context, the situation. In this case we are dealing with a book that holds a monopoly on its subject matter. There are virtually no other publications out there that address this topic from an educational perspective, which serves to undermine the overall credibility of this work in that it cannot be compared to equivalent texts which ironically serves as the reason for its general acceptance in academia. When analyzing the components of a novel, a news article, or even academic information in a field you are familiar with, engaging in the intellectual process of induction and deduction can be a very useful and beneficial tactic. This is not the case with Baugh and Cable. They have written a book that is used by students who are ignorant of the majority of the information being presented, in a style that caters to the linguists and Old English scholars, not to students. This inaccurate intimation of the readers preliminary understanding leads to a lack of any definitive description or explanation of the term in question. This results in the relay of arbitrary, germane information about observable changes of inflection in the English language that are essentially hieroglyphic to the reader who lacks the necessary, preexisting knowledge needed to derive any useful intelligence from this text. 
Our discussion here has skimmed the surface of how official style can be used ineffectively, while also keeping in mind that our ability to engage with this kind of material is a skill that we, as educated individuals must accept as a necessity. This impacts my argument and creates the need for a specification. This text, while containing a great deal of information about the English language that should be a part of this course curriculum, must be assessed for its appropriateness. The book itself may not be as useless to somebody pursuing the study of Old English so to that end I must capitulate that this text is not entirely pointless and does have a potential classroom application. Given this concession, we have raised the question of the import of variety. When we are presented with information on any subject, a lack of available alternative sources should be a concern. We must always be critical of what we read but this is only possible through the application of caparison and where none is available our mind set should remain dubious.    

The official style has been dubbed the dominant style of our time and is found everywhere from legal doctrines to political speeches, textbooks to memos,  and has given us a comfortable form in which to express ourselves intellectually and professionally. But. as we have discussed, the use of this style must be considered with care when implementing it in our writing. It is crucial to consider your audience in order to gauge the degree to which you employ this language strategy and as we have seen, Baugh and Cable have failed miserably in this regard. They have created a textbook that caters to themselves and the result is a useless pile of paper that has been forced upon students who must constantly struggle to read and dissect its incoherent pages. Our writers have demonstrated zero consideration for their audience and utilized expletives to such a degree as to make their words unreadable and their concepts indecipherable. This book is a prime example of the official style gone wrong and proof that just because you as a writer understand what you are saying does not mean that your words have any value to those who will eventually be forced to read them.