Thursday, February 07, 2008

Awkwardness

Yesterday, Jonathan Mayhew posted a good example of a sentence that could be "rewritten a few more times". Here's how it might look in an organization theory paper:

The perspective from which Lean should be evaluated is from within the myth of Japanese efficiency.

As Jonathan notes, it suffers from both the passive voice and an "overall awkwardness".

Let's start with the awkwardness. "The pesperctive from which ... is from within ..." The fact that the preposition "from" is used twice should raise a red flag and the second instance is in fact superfluous. Since we are always getting things in perspective, nothing is added by saying "from within". (Don't say "from within" if "from outside" would make no sense.)

The perspective from which Lean should be evaluated is the myth of Japanese efficiency.
Once this has been done, we can see that the "is" does little more than identify two things:

The perspective from which Lean should be evaluated = the myth of Japanese efficiency.

So we can freely reverse the order, which makes it less awkward in this case:

The myth of Japanese efficiency is the perspective from which Lean should be evaluated.

Now, I'm uncertain about how to identify the passive voice here. The auxilliary verb "should" forces us to use the past participle of "evaluate" and the passive voice is imposed by is + the past participle. But the "is ... should be" is certainly less active than simply saying:

Lean should be evaluated from the perspective of the myth of Japanese efficiency.

This seems more active but it is still, I think, formally in the passive voice. If there is some particular reason to hold on to the "within", then you are actually free to put it back. But consider using only one preposition:

Lean should be evaluated within the perspective of the myth of Japanese efficiency.
Now, let's turn put it resolutely in the active voice and recover the "from within":

We should evaluate Lean from within the perspective established by the myth of Japanese efficiency.

We could convert it from the indicative mood to the imperative it glosses over:

Always evaluate Lean from within the perspective established by the myth of Japanese efficiency!

But academic prose normally avoids the imperative mood even when giving instructions. It politely turns them into statements of fact about how things ought naturally to be.

It may help to sort out the descriptive from the prescriptive point of this sentence. It is trying to say something about what should be done but also about how things in fact are. They could be separted as follows:

Lean management emerged from of the myth of Japanese efficiency and it should be evaluated in that perspective.

I will leave it to you to go back to Jonathan's post and decide whether what I have done here can count as a rewriting of the sentence he quoted.

2 comments:

Jonathan said...

"The myth of Japanese cultural uniqueness provides a useful perspective from which to evaluate the notion of 'lean management.'"

No passive voice, no duplication of prepositions; an overall gain in clarity and ease of comprehension. Two strong verbs: provide and evaluate, do the heavy lifting, though the noun phrases are still somewhat verbose.

"The myth of Japanese cultural uniqueness provides a useful perspective from which to evaluate 'lean management.'"

Here I avoid the duplication of the "blank of blank" construction in the same sentence. Notice how this sentence might lead in nicely to another explaining in detail the relation between these two concepts.

Thomas Basbøll said...

We do well to approach Lean from within the myth of Japanese cultural uniqueness. This perspective allows us to...

We cannot evaluate the Lean movement without taking the myth of Japanese cultural uniqueness into account.


(I just noticed that bringing together "myth" and "perspective" causes interference because a myth already is a perspective.)

Rewritten a few times, indeed!