Thursday, August 15, 2013


When readers encounter a series, they expect it to be in order, usually in a specific order. For example, if you’ve just taken your seat in a concert hall, and you’re looking at the evening’s program, you expect it be in chronological order, the order in which the pieces will be performed. And you would expect a list of the concert hall’s benefactors to be in alphabetical order by last name (sometimes within groups that broadly indicate level of generosity, highest to lowest).

Careful writers try to put every series in proper order. In contrast, a careless writer will often present a series in a jumble. For example, here is the last paragraph in an article about false allegations of sexual abuse:
But if no-one [sic] approximates to what they are taken to be, then authenticity and trust disappear. The value of anonymity and the precious -privacy in public- it brings, comes from a reliable assumption of shared values between people not known to each other from which the trust necessary for society to function properly derives. (Source)
The writer apparently is trying to describe a causal chain. But he does not put the links of the chain in proper order.

After some guesswork and two rewrites, I came up with this:
But if strangers do not share our values, strangers will not approximate to what they appear to be, and we will not be able to trust strangers. Then society will not be able to function properly and no one will be able to enjoy anonymity or “privacy in public.”
I think that my version is clearer and that I have captured what the author meant. However, I am not certain. I welcome your comments.

The Takeaway: When you are presenting a series, put it in order, usually in the order that readers expect. And when the order is not what readers expect, state the order.

See disclaimer.

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