In which I pick on a paragraph

rogersgeorge on January 22nd, 2014

Scientific American has pretty high editorial standards, but the blogs must use a different editor. This isn’t entirely bad–the goofs provide grist for my mill. I recently ran into a thought-provoking article in the Information Culture blog about removing books from a library’s collection. Thoughtful content notwithstanding, I found a couple things to edit. Here’s the guilty paragraph:

Scientists learn new things everyday that render previous books and articles on a topic out-of-date or simply incorrect.  Yesterday I pulled a book off the shelf about how to conduct radiometric dating published in 1954. There have been major advances in the topic in the past 60 years and we have more up to date information available on the shelves.

I found three solecisms. See if you can spot them before you continue. Here they are, with some additional remarks.

  1. First one: “everyday” is an adjective. In this sentence we want an adverb (tells when), which in this case should be “every day.”
  2. “previous” is correct. A lot of people would have written “prior,” which is wrong. I mentioned that in at least one past post.
  3. “simply incorrect” gets along fine without the “simply.” I wrote several times about fluff—unnecessary words—two of them are “just” and “simply.” However the writer here is being conversational, not giving instructions, and the word is not ungrammatical, so we can call it a stylistic choice. But it’s tighter without the extra word.
  4. Second one: The hyphenation in “out-of-date” shouldn’t be there. It’s a plain old adverb phrase that goes with “render.” No need for hyphens.
  5. This remark is rather picky. I would have put a comma after “radiometric dating” because “published in 1954” goes with “book.” The comma separates dating from published, making you look elsewhere. Books and publishing go together so commonly that you’re not likely to be confused, but the rule is that a modifier belongs as close as possible to what it modifies. The comma makes sure you don’t suppose that the dating itself was published in 1954.
  6. Third one: “up to date” should be hyphenated. It’s a compound adjective, which we hyphenate.

That’s a lot of chopping on one poor paragraph in an interesting article. I should add that nothing else jumped out at me in the whole rest of the article, and I shall give credit where it is due: the last sentence in the article is nice:

Weeding no-longer-useful books is just as important to collection building as acquiring new books.

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