Friday, 12 February 2010

Ten helpful hints for IP writers

Having spent most of yesterday editing submissions that have been accepted for publication in forthcoming issues, I found myself making notes concerning some of the most frequent -- if not the most serious -- "crimes" committed by their writers. To encourage future authors of articles, current intelligence notes and book reviews not to follow their example, I have taken the liberty of listing ten of these points below.
1. "What's in a Name?" is the most cliched of titles for contributions relating to trade marks, trade names, company names, geographical indications and domain name disputes. If I never changed the titles, JIPLP would probably publish between 10 and 12 "What's in a Name?" features a year.

2. Mammoth titles. While a grand title may impress the typesetters, it is unlikely to do so with readers. I frequently receive submissions with titles that exceed 20 words. These are difficult to remember and more likely to be incorrectly cited in other people's footnotes.
3. "Obvious" and "of course". The more frequently these words are used, the more they are likely to annoy the reader. Sometimes they are used as an appeal to self-evident truth on the part of a writer who cannot be bothered to explain or justify a proposition. Further, a reader to whom the writer's points are not obvious may feel patronised and/or alienated.
4. Metaphors. Carefully deployed, a metaphor can be devastatingly effective. However, many colourful figures of speech do not translate well from one culture to another. Many readers of JIPLP employ English as a second or subsequent language and will construe an unfamiliar metaphor literally unless they are made aware of its intended meaning. Misunderstood military and sports metaphors can detract from the force of a piece of otherwise clearly-expressed reasoning (if a litigant "nails his colours to the mast", or if counsel "bowls the witness a googly", will the reader know what is meant?).
5. Footnotes are printed in smaller lettering than the principal text. This is because they provide source references and other data that will assist the curious reader to learn more but will not distract other readers from what it is that the author seeks to say. If you use footnotes as a means of continuing at the bottom of the page a piece of reasoning that starts in the main text, you do your reader a disservice.
6. "Introduction" and "Conclusion". The observant reader will have noticed that is highly unusual for any article in JIPLP to commence with a heading marked "Introduction" or to conclude with the heading "Conclusion". These terms are not incorrect when used as such, but their cumulative effect is boringly descriptive. In the physical world, we would not gain in understanding if every door we saw was marked with the word "Door"; however, were doors to be marked with words like "Private", "Danger: keep out", "Entrance", "Staff only" or "Canteen", we might benefit from such knowledge. I believe that the same can be said of headings in articles.
7. Irrelevant facts. Every item of information which assists the reader must be provided if he is to understand a legal proposition or follow the logic of a decided legal dispute. Conversely, every item of information which does not assist the reader is likely to distract him. The writer knows, even as he writes, what information is crucial and what is not; he provides the witty asides, the subtle allusions, the gratuitous tidbits that can make a piece of prose so enjoyable. The reader however will only know which information is relevant once he has finished reading -- by which time he may have been struggling to retain factual data which he assumed to be important but which was no more than a whimsical aside.
8. Padding. Take the following sentence: "It is significant to note, as may be apparent to the reader, that the feline mammal was occupying, in a sense, a wholly if not entirely sedentary position within the general context of what was, as could clearly be seen in this situation, a horizontally-spread woven textile floor-covering, as is sometimes -- but not always -- the case". This is just a drawn-out way of saying "The cat sat on the mat". If you think this is an extreme example, you are right -- but I have many examples of apparently sentences which have been subjected to vigorous editorial liposuction, to their benefit.
9. Terminology. If your jurisdiction employs unusual words or concepts, or if the judiciary, lawyers and clients converse with one another in Latin, please do not wait to be invited to provide an explanation. You can be sure that the editorial team, starting with me, will not allow any words or phrases to go into print if we cannot understand them.
10. Bad English. No author should feel any sense of shame or embarrassment in putting a submission before a friend or colleague who is more literate than he or she is, in order to weed out errors in spelling, grammar and syntax. Peer reviewers have often complained at the poor standard of the text they are evaluating, sometimes commenting that it distracts them from their principal task of judging the suitability of the content. Twenty or thirty years ago, a comment such as this would have been aimed mainly at foreign authors. This is no longer the case. Linguistic excellence among authors whose first language is not English, combined with a marked decline in English language skills in England itself, have produced the sad result that many of the worst offenders are native English speakers. Readers of JIPLP will never know how badly written the first draft of a submission is, but please make it easier for us to polish your prose into the finished article.

5 comments:

  1. INTRODUCTION

    A mighty fine list.

    CONCLUSTION

    Everyone should read this.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The TradeMarkovs'12 February 2010 at 13:08

    On 7. Sure. But Hemingway wrote once that there shall be a hero or a detail without any connection to the narrative, and that an important thing shall be missed if you know what is happening.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I've just received this message of support from my learned colleague Dr Margaret Llewelyn, who edits the Intellectual Property Quarterly:

    THANK YOU - I could not agree more and think all editors should take note and convey to authors accordingly (with full attribution of course). May I borrow?

    ReplyDelete
  4. A fine and perceptive list. Very useful. If only contributors would comply...

    Adam Smith
    www.WorldTrademarkReview.com

    ReplyDelete
  5. Yes, Yes! Rapturously, joyously...!

    DME

    ReplyDelete