e-discovery definition

The Ongoing Debate About the “E” in E-Discovery: Passion, Purpose, and Persuasion

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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 impassioned debate between Doug Austin, Editor of eDiscovery Today, and myself (along with many others on social media), the question is whether to use “e”, “e-“ or “eD” when writing the abbreviated phrase “electronic discovery.”

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

In the meantime, our friend Kelly Twigger from eDiscovery Assistant launched a poll on LinkedIn, the results of which we’ll get to 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 hyphenate e-discovery or not and when to use a small “e” or big “D.” Doug, however, suggested that the CMOS is an archaic and/or anachronistic style manual.

Doug’s arguments notwithstanding, the rules of grammar, style, and usage are well-established. I’m not sure why, but I feel the need to defend the Chicago Manual of Style. Let’s begin with the fact that these are not my rules; these are rules from The University of Chicago Press editorial staff and their advisory board of publishing experts. UChicago is one of the most respected academic institutions in the country and is currently ranked #3, ahead of both Stanford and MIT. I think they might know how grammar works and I have not been able to find anything that contradicts these rules.

Next, Doug seems to argue that “venerable” means “old.” Putting aside the obvious implications of that argument, the CMOS has been updated many times since it was first published. The last time was two years ago. The rules are current, and the CMOS does not anywhere suggest using the long ʃ in its 17th Edition. By the way, I might for example say that “Doug is a venerable thought-leader,” but I’m not also saying he is old; just that there’s a classic, trusted wisdom in his ideas. Bottom line: the CMOS is the #1 best-selling book in the Book Publishing Industry category. It is the Bible for writers!

Instead of arguing how or why the CMOS rules are invalid, my good friend Doug suggests that because I have rolled through a stop sign in front of my house it somehow undercuts the validity of the CMOS rules, or worse, my own credibility. I mean, who could espouse following some rules and then ignore other rules? This argument holds no water. It’s apples and oranges. A red herring (whatever the heck that means).

Look, an old debate trick when you have no valid, substantive opposing arguments, is to attack the integrity of your opponent. Okay, who among you have not rolled through a stop sign!? Doesn’t make you a poor grammarian. And just FYI, folks, when that stop sign blew over in Hurricane Sandy, it was yours truly who went out and stood it back up, even driving wooden spikes into the ground to stabilize it. *takes a bow*

Finally, Doug points to the fact that “eDiscovery” (small e, big D) appears in the subtitle of my book, and that fact somehow establishes that he is right, and I am wrong about the hyphen. I hate being on defense, but as they say, you play the hand you’ve been dealt. First, “eDiscovery” as used in the title of my book, Project Management in Electronic Discovery: An Introduction to Core Principles of Legal Project Management and Leadership in eDiscovery, is entirely appropriate since it is part of the title or proper name of a published work, which falls squarely within Rule #1 below.

(By the way –shameless plug coming—the second edition of Project Management in Electronic Discovery, complete with revised text, new sections, and chapters, should be available in a few weeks!)

Second, I never said it was improper to use “eDiscovery”—I simply pointed out the CMOS’ grammatical, style, and usage rules.

Now, as mentioned, since our little debate began, Kelly Twigger launched a poll on LinkedIn in which she asked, “Is it ‘Discovery’, ‘eDiscovery’ or ‘E-Discovery’ or what?” Lo and behold, a whopping 82% or 294 of the 359 respondents said it’s “eDiscovery.” Just 8% or 29 of the 359 said “e-discovery,” and another 8% said it’s plain old “discovery.” (Oddly, 2% said “other”).

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

For those who toil in the business of writing words, here are the CMOS rules:

Rule 1: if you start a sentence with the word “e-discovery,” it is proper usage to capitalize the “E.” The only exception is proper nouns or brand names.

Rule 2: With respect to the capital “D” (i.e., eDiscovery), it is never proper usage to capitalize a letter in the middle of a word unless that word is a proper noun or brand name (e.g., eBay or iPhone).

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

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

But there’s a time and a place for informality and efficiency; just like there’s a time and place for formal communication. If you’re commenting on a post on LinkedIn, less formality may be appropriate. Try writing for a journal at UChicago and see if they don’t impose the formal rules of grammar, style, and usage.

There are sticklers or traditionalists that tend to hue towards more formal grammar; people who use proper parts of speech, avoid slang, and all that; but it’s been my experience that that can come off as a bit stuffy or snobby at times. I like a casual conversation, and there is such a thing as casual writing as well.

My point –and I thought I made this clear in my post—is that clarity of understanding is the key. In a world in which so many people are talking past each other and misunderstanding one another, the focus has got to be on clarity of understanding. If I cannot understand what you’ve written or what you’re saying, what is the point? Rules, like those recommended by the CMOS, tend to guide and inform understanding. And that, my friends, is the only point I’ve been trying to make.

Finally, much has been made about whether we should use the “e” at all. It is true that e-discovery is part of the larger legal discovery process. There’s a lot more to discovery than just e-discovery. In the end, though, I think we should keep the “e” to distinguish e-discovery from the other components of the discovery process. Otherwise, we’d effectively eviscerate a $15 billion industry, and the unique, specialized knowledge and skill that e-discovery professionals bring to the table. Besides, it may also make marketing professionals’ heads in the e-discovery space explode.

But most importantly, if we ditch the “e,” Doug Austin and Kelly Twigger would both need to rebrand eDiscovery Today and eDiscovery Assistant!

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

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

Mike Quartararo on EmailMike Quartararo on LinkedinMike Quartararo on Twitter
Mike Quartararo
Mike Quartararo is the President of the Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists (ACEDS), the world’s leading organization providing training and certification in e-discovery to law firms, corporate legal departments and the broader the legal community. He is also the author of the 2016 book Project Management in Electronic Discovery and has been successfully consulting in information governance, e-discovery, project management and legal technology for two decades, including 10-year stints at both Skadden Arps and Stroock. A graduate of the State University of New York, he is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and a Certified E-Discovery Specialist (CEDS). He frequently writes and speaks on e-discovery, legal operations, project management and technology topics. Reach him via email at [email protected] or on Twitter @mikequartararo.

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