Advice to Journal Editors

6 June 2013 at 9:31 am 2 comments

| Peter Klein |

The Story of French, a fun and interesting history of the French language by Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow, offers a number of valuable insights for writers and editors. Aspiring journal editors could learn from François de Malherbe (1555–1628), described by Nadeau and Barlow as “the biggest and most brazen language snob the world has ever seen.” Despite being “a fretful fault-finder who spent his life attacking, both verbally and in writing, every mistake — or what he regarded as mistakes — he could find and anyone who made one,” Malherbe had sound editorial instincts. In particular, he valued simplicity and clarity and despised unnecessary verbiage.

As a pastime, Malherbe edited Ronsard’s poetry, removing about half the words. His future biographer, Honorat de Racan, once asked him, “Does this mean you approve of the rest?” Malherbe responded by erasing what was left on the page.

Tough, but fair. . . . Anyway, Malherbe was clearly onto something. He “preached the virtues of clarity, precision, and rigor” while denouncing “ornamentation, repetition, archaisms, regionalisms, and hyperbole.” Perhaps academic journals need a few more Malherbes.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Richard O. Hammer  |  6 June 2013 at 8:44 pm

    Many times I have encountered the advice to remove unnecessary words from writing. I believed it when I was younger. I still believe part of it. But during the past ten years I have frequently believed that I decreased possible ambiguity of my sentences by adding words.

    Sometimes a linguistic element can refer back to more than one antecedent. Newcomers to a subject are especially likely to trip by assuming reference to the wrong antecedent. This happens to me all the time when I am reading. So when I am writing I often start an anaphora with a repetition of an antecedent term. I believe this will make it easier for some of my readers.

    I also add bulk to my drafts by replacing pronouns with proper names. I do this wherever a reader, who may not as familiar with the named entities as I am, might get them confused.

  • 2. Rafe Champion  |  10 June 2013 at 10:32 pm

    Yes it is a matter of what is really not necessary. More words for clarity are words well spent. More things have to be explained for a mixed readership where you can’t talk in the shorthand of a particular sub-field. The point is to remove padding and passages that don’t add value. In some cases that rules out the whole paper. Not things written by the people on this list of course!

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