The Ongoing Debate About the “E” in eDiscovery: Passion, Purpose, and Persuasion | Association of Certified Electronic Discovery Specialists (ACEDS)

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One of the things I love about e-discovery is the passion of the people who work in the industry. For those not following the heated debate between Doug Austin, editor of eDiscovery Today, and myself (and many others on social media), the question is whether to use “e” , “e-” or “eD” when writing the abbreviation phrase “electronic discovery”.

Doug wrote “Dash or No Dash” first, then I fired back with “Grammar and Style.” Doug has since responded with this post, and so here I am again responding today.

In the meantime, our friend Kelly Twigger from eDiscovery Assistant has launched a poll on LinkedIn, the results of which we’ll see in a minute.

In “Grammar and Style”, I took the position that grammar, style, and usage, as recommended by the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), provide the rules for whether to cut or not electronic discovery and when to use a small “e” or a large “D”. Doug, however, suggested that CMOS is an archaic and/or anachronistic textbook.

Despite Doug’s arguments, the rules of grammar, style and usage are well established. I don’t know why, but I feel the need to defend the Chicago Manual of Style. Let’s start with the fact that these are not my rules; these are the rules of The University of Chicago Press editorial team and their expert publishing advisory board. UChicago is one of the most respected academic institutions in the country and is currently ranked #3, ahead of Stanford and MIT. I think they might know how the grammar works and I haven’t found anything that contradicts those rules.

Next, Doug seems to argue that “venerable” means “old”. Aside from the obvious implications of this argument, the CMOS has been updated several times since it was first published. The last time was two years ago. The rules are current, and CMOS nowhere suggests using the long ʃ in its 17th edition. By the way, I could for example say that “Doug is a venerable opinion leader”, but I am not also saying that he is old; just that there is classic, reliable wisdom in his ideas. Conclusion: CMOS is the best-selling book in the book publishing industry category. He is the Bible for writers!

Instead of discussing how or why the CMOS rules are invalid, my good friend Doug suggests that because I ran a stop sign outside my house, it somehow undermines the validity of the CMOS rules, or worse, my own credibility. I mean, who could agree to follow certain rules and then ignore other rules? This argument does not hold water. It’s apples and oranges. A red herring (whatever that means).

Listen, an old debating trick when you don’t have valid and substantial opposing arguments is to attack your opponent’s integrity. Alright, who of you hasn’t gone through a stop sign!? That doesn’t make you a bad grammarian. And just so you know, folks, when that stop sign blew up in Hurricane Sandy, it was yours truly who got out and picked it up, even driving wooden spikes into the ground to steady it . *bows*

Finally, Doug points out that “eDiscovery” (small e, big D) appears in the subtitle of my book, and that fact kind of establishes that he’s right, and I’m wrong about the hyphen . I hate being on defense, but as they say, you play the hand that was dealt to you. First, “eDiscovery” as used in the title of my book, Project Management in eDiscovery: An Introduction to the Fundamentals of Legal Project Management and Leadership in eDiscovery, is quite appropriate since it forms part of the title or proper name of a published work, which falls directly under Rule 1 below.

(By the way – shameless catch ahead – the second edition of eDiscovery project management, complete with revised text, new sections and chapters, should be available in a few weeks!)

Second, I never said it was inappropriate to use “eDiscovery” – I simply pointed out the rules of CMOS grammar, style, and usage.

Now, as mentioned, from the beginning of our little debate, Kelly Twigger launched a poll on LinkedIn in which she asked, “Is it ‘Discovery’, ‘eDiscovery’ or ‘E-Discovery’ or what?” Lo and behold, no less than 82% or 294 of 359 respondents said it was “eDiscovery”. Only 8% or 29 of 359 said “e-discovery”, and a further 8% said it was just “discovery”. (Oddly, 2% answered “other”).

My personal preference is “e-discovery”. I’m clearly in the minority on this, but it’s my choice, even if only 8% of respondents agree. I’m sure there can be an argument that LinkedIn’s algorithm is interfering with reaching all relevant survey respondents. What troubles me is that 82% of respondents simply ignore the grammar and usage issue.

For those struggling to write words, here are the CMOS rules:

Rule 1: if you start a sentence with the word “e-discovery”, it is customary to put the “E” in capitals. The only exception is for proper names or brand names.

Rule 2: Regarding the capital “D” (e.g. eDiscovery), it’s never good to capitalize a letter in the middle of a word, unless that word is a proper noun or a brand name ( for example, eBay or iPhone).

Rule 3: When composing two words, especially when writing in the “e” context, proper usage is to break after the “e” (i.e., e-mail, e- commerce, e-discovery).

The truth is – and my colleague Maribel Rivera pointed this out in an online comment – we have bastardized the English language. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I like to think of it as a kind of evolutionary evolution. We use LMAO, BTW, emojis, and some just use “k” to communicate. It’s a shortcut that makes communication more efficient.

But there is a time and a place for informality and efficiency; just as there is a time and a place for formal communication. If you are commenting on a LinkedIn post, less formality may be appropriate. Try writing for a newspaper in UChicago and see if they impose formal rules of grammar, style, and usage.

There are finicky or traditionalists who tend to lean towards more formal grammar; people who use the right parts of speech, avoid slang, and all that; but in my experience it can sometimes feel a bit stuffy or snobbish. I like casual conversation, and there’s such a thing as casual writing, too.

What I mean – and I thought I made this clear in my post – is that clarity of understanding is key. In a world where so many people talk and misunderstand each other, the focus must be on clarity of understanding. If I can’t understand what you’ve written or what you’re saying, what’s the point? Rules, such as those recommended by CMOS, tend to guide and illuminate understanding. And that, my friends, is the only point that I have tried to make.

Finally, much has been said about the advisability of using the “e”. It is true that eDiscovery is part of a larger legal discovery process. Discovery is more than eDiscovery. Ultimately, though, I think we should keep the “e” to distinguish eDiscovery from other parts of the discovery process. Otherwise, we would effectively be gutting a $15 billion industry, along with the unique and specialized knowledge and skills that eDiscovery professionals bring to the table. Additionally, it can also blow the heads of eDiscovery marketers.

Most importantly, if we drop the “e,” Doug Austin and Kelly Twigger should both rename eDiscovery Today and eDiscovery Assistant!

As for the hyphen or not, or the “ed” or “eD”, does it really matter? Write it as you see fit. It’s tomato/tomato if you ask me. Just be clear. Rules, like some stop signs, are often just suggestions.

Photo credit: (Image: Merriam-Webster.com Legal Dictionary, sv “e-discovery”, accessed January 18, 2022, https://www.merriam-webster.com/legal/e-discovery)

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