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Style Manual

This post will be for notes on writing style.

1. Should You Change to House Style in Submitting Your Paper to a journal?

2. Lists.

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A paper on Spanish expeditions to the New World wrote;

The locations of the settlements had to comply, following the indications of the Spanish administration, with the rules of Saint Thomas Aquinas, who listed the ”indispensable” characteristics that a territory should have: access to potable water, proximity to construction material (wood), nearness to forests and cultivable land, etc.

I told them they needed to cite Aquinas. And not by page number–by exact section, since it is an old book.

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(1) Consider the following sentence:

(i) Smith & Jones (2018) shows that Brown & Anderson (2000) is wrong.

The problem is one of meaning, as much as style. Do we mean that the article by smith and Brown shows that the article by Brown and Anderson is wrong? So says the sentence above. But we might want to say something different:

(ii) Smith and Jones (2018) show that Brown & Anderson (2000) is wrong.

Version (ii) says that Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones show that the article by Brown and Anderson is wrong. For a computer to read we would write:

(iii) Smith and Jones show in Smith & Jones (2018) that Brown & Anderson (2000) is wrong,

Version (ii), however, conveys the same meaning and information more briefly, for sure, and also, I think, less obtrusively. Another way to do it is this:

(iv) Smith and Jones showed in 2018 that Brown & Anderson (2000) is wrong.

This is nice because it uses more of ordinary language, but it does shift the meaning a little bit by emphasizing slightly that it was in 2018 that Smith and Jones wrote their article.

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(3) Is it good to write, “Numbered lists are very useful,” instead of “Numbered lists are useful”? I think so, even though the word “very” is meaningless in that context. Why, however, does it sound like it ought to be used? I don’t know.

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(4) Punctuation around quotation marks. This needs to be solved.

Is it good to write, “Numbered lists are very useful,” instead of “Numbered lists are useful”?

Note how the use of an indented blockquote helps, even though this is so short that ordinarily you wouldn’t indent. It save me one set of quotation marks.

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(5) Writing Right Right Now.

(6) Consider the following sentence:

There are two ways you might talk about a sneezing norm, “You don’t sneeze at a party” and “One doesn’t sneeze at a party.”

There are actually more than two ways you might talk. You might also say “A body doesn’t sneeze” or “People don’t sneeze” or, no doubt, many other things that all work out the same. Is it okay to say, “There are two ways”, when there are more? Yes, I think. Literally, you are fine, because “There are two ways” logically implies a weak in equality, not an equality. “There are two integers less than 55” is a true sentence, though it would be more precise to say “There exist two integers less than 55”. I find this a trickier to think about than I thought, though. I tried to express it in set notation, but didn’t get very far before thinking I had to use the phrase “at least”.

Anyway, without context, we assume sharp equality. “There are two integers less than 5” sounds false. With context, the sentence is clear. “The proposed solution (x,y) exists despite its requirement that x and y be non-identical integers less than 55, because there do exist two integers less than 55.

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(7) I must discuss contractions, Maybe I do already in the 2001 chapter. Do I mention Judge Posner?

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(8) Indefinite Pronouns.

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(9) Quotations punctuation and capitalization Quotation style is messed up. I really must look at Fowler, and at Fowler & Fowler. One issue is what should be done about punctuation– inside the quotes, or outside. Logically, it should be outside, but often it looks better inside. Suppose the original quotation says:

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The march of the human mind is slow.

Which of these alternatives is best?

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(i) Burke referred to “the march of the human mind.”
(ii) Burke referred to, “the march of the human mind”.
(iii) Burke referred to: “the march of the human mind”.
(iv) Burke referred to “[t]he march of the human mind.”
(v) Burke referred to, “[t]he march of the human mind.”
(vi) Burke referred to, “[t]he march of the human mind”.

Here’s a real example that just came up for me. I wrote this on Twitter on August 25, 2020:

You have a good idea. Is there a way to phrase it better, in the statement sentence or the qualifying sentence? E.g., “Correlation in the population-generating distribution *does* imply causation.”? This gets into deep philosophical stuff, of course.

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(10) Quotation abridgement. Quotation style is messed up. One issue is what should be done about quotation abridgement. Should ellipses always be used, and must punctuation remain as in the original? Suppose the original quotation says:


Yet, the waltz of the human mind is slow, and in many cases clumsy.

Which of these alternatives are acceptable, if prefaced by, “John Doe said,”?


(i) … [T]he waltz of the human mind is slow, and in many cases clumsy.
(ii) The waltz of the human mind is slow, and in many cases clumsy.
(iii) [T]he waltz of the human mind is slow, and in many cases clumsy.
(iv) The waltz of the human mind is slow.
(v) …[T]he waltz of the human mind is slow…

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If your URL is too long, use a URL shortener.
From Aaron Laws, August 20, 2020, a URL lengthener:
http://aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fgoogle.com . It wraps across lines of text. Nobody in the world could type it in without getting it wrong. It is a crime against humanity, a tool the robots will use to destroy our will to live once they take over the world.

Mr. Laws tells me,

I understand the domain name is the longest possible at the moment. Here’s how it’s used:
http://aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.com/AaaaaaaaaAAaaaAAaaaa?aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa=aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
redirects to a video, Big Enough on Youtube.

This is quite long, for a funny example. Should it be cut out, on the Strunk and White principle of shortening when possible? No, I think. It cannot be cut out, or even cut, without losing meaning. “But that meaning is not the point at hand,” you may cry, “we are talking about the value of short URL’s, not the harm from long ones.” The value of short URL’s is indeed the point, but how can I convey that to the reader? I can state it easily. For some, that is enough– you extrapolate; you think of three reasons why I am correct; you connect the point with your own experience; you treasure it in your heart to use at the next opportunity. For other readers, however, merely conveying the idea sola is not enough. For them– and I would be that kind of reader myself, I think– it helps to have an example of a good URL, an example of a bad URL, and an example of a ridiculously bad URL. Even better, I have the chance here to display a humorous app designed to do the opposite of what a reasonable man would want, something that will lock the idea into the reader’s memory. And, I have the chance to set this into a conversation, a bit of honey to make the medicine go down more smoothly. I add many more words than strictly necessary, but all of the additions are pleasant and easy, so it adds essentially nothing to the reading time needed.

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