Letters to the editor: Still vigorous after all these years?

Letters to the editor: Still vigorous after all these years?

ENGLISH FOR SPECIFIC PURPOSES English for Specific Purposes 25 (2006) 173–199 www.elsevier.com/locate/esp Letters to the editor: Still vigorous afte...

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English for Specific Purposes 25 (2006) 173–199


Letters to the editor: Still vigorous after all these years? A presentation of the discursive and linguistic features of the genre q Anne Magnet a


, Didier Carnet


Faculty of Life Science, University of Burgundy, 6, boulevard Gabriel, 21000 Dijon, France b School of Medicine, University of Burgundy, Dijon, France

Abstract This paper investigates Letters to the Editor, a section in biomedical journals used by scientists since the early 19th century to question already validated research. The aim of this study is to highlight some of the discursive strategies and to bring to the fore the linguistic characteristics of this particular genre, to analyze its goal, role and use within a community of French researchers. It is based on a corpus of 200 letters selected from two scientific journals in the fields of biology and medicine: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and The Lancet published between 1999 and 2002. The strategy of questioning is analyzed as an explicit and implicit mode of criticism leveled at an established scientific fact. It is a truly original mode of expression within scientific discourse. We postulate that letters to the editor have a common cognitive pattern since our corpus shows that an underlying macrostructure built on four moves can be identified in most letters. This rhetorical mode is used to challenge previous research and can therefore be considered to be a dynamic process for research. These letters also display original linguistic features distinct from those used in the research article. We identified syntactic specificities among which are the very low occurrence of hedging and of the passive voice, resulting from the researcher-centered approach. The lexical analysis revealed a heavy use of disparaging q *

The article is co-authored equally. Corresponding author. E-mail address: [email protected] (A. Magnet).

0889-4906/$30.00 Ó 2005 The American University. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.esp.2005.03.004


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terms which makes the style derogatory. Social and cultural references also typify this genre. The impact and representation of this mode of scientific expression in a Frenchspeaking scientific community were measured through a questionnaire survey whose results are reported and analyzed. Ó 2005 The American University. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction A large part of the research work carried out on scientific writing has focused on the most widespread form of discourse, the experimental research paper (Bazerman, 1988; Berkenkotter & Huckin, 1995; Hopkins & Dudley-Evans, 1988). This type of academic discourse has been described as a constrained and modeled mode of written communication and it was set up as a genre following SwalesÕ archetypal studies (1981, 1990). Although this genre accounts for at least 75% of the reading activity of scientists (Magnet, unpublished data), investigating other forms of scientific discourse seems of interest to the scientific discourse analyst. The aim of this study was to evaluate another means of communication in the scientific community: the Letter to the Editor, which has remained unexplored territory in the field of ESP studies. To our knowledge, apart from our two previous papers (Carnet & Magnet, 2002; Magnet & Carnet, 2001) and BlochÕs innovative article (2003), little attention has been paid to this specific kind of scientific discourse. It has, however, been identified as a genre of abiding interest in scientific written communication (Berkenkotter & Huckin, 1995; Blakeslee, 1994), but these authors show that the genre has often evolved over time into genuine short communications. This has been the case for instance for the prestigious journal Physical Review in which the letters-to-the-editor column had become so important that the publishers decided to issue it as a separate publication, thus giving birth officially to PRL (Physical Review Letters) and where they now more closely resemble conventional journal articles than they do ordinary letters (Berkenkotter & Huckin, 1995, pp. 38–39). The study presented here targets the genre ÔcorrespondenceÕ – that is, real exchanges between researchers through editors – and our purpose is to highlight the underlying strategies developed through this genre, describe its main discursive and linguistic features, and analyze its use in a community of French scientists. We postulate that Letters to the Editor not only offer researchers an open forum to give full vent to sometimes harsh criticism, but also contribute to the validation process of new research by Ôinvisible collegesÕ (Crane, 1972). As Bloch (2003) points out: While papers need to be evaluated in order to be published, much of the process of evaluation comes after publication [. . .] The process is continued formally by having the paper cited in other papers that undergo the same process of review and informally in conferences and in the letters to the Editor of scholarly journals.

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According to Weber (1994, p. 58) Letters to the Editor is one of the seven genres identified in scientific journals along with research papers, review articles, editorials, book reviews, case studies and the news section. Publishing letters is generally considered by the scientific community at large as less difficult than having an article accepted (Carnet & Magnet, 2002). However, Behe (2002) reports that, in some cases, it may be as arduous to have a letter published as it is to have a research article, though for different reasons. Any reader can submit a letter, but the editorial board will decide on the opportunity to publish it and the acceptance criteria are not officially stated. The objective for an author is not merely to write a letter and let another scientist know his/her opinion about a specific topic. If that were the case, such letters would have long disappeared and would perhaps have been replaced by e-mails, which are currently a much more direct and rapid way to communicate. Conversely, correspondence in scientific journals does not aim to solve private issues. Letter writers require the entire community to witness and even take part in their public debate. The editor acts as a medium, and the letters are used as tools in the general process of scientific validation. As for the editors, we may wonder why they still grant space for these letters in their journals, since they are generally short of space. Indeed, contrary to scientific conference forums or discussion forums on the net, their journals offer permanent records of a debate. They are public, can always be consulted, and can even be quoted as references in bibliographies. This type of discourse is a genre even if minor in scientific writing as a whole. It was, in fact, at the origin of scientific writing. Bazerman (1988, p. 80) indicates that the first publications in Philosophical transactions were letters enabling people interested in scientific observation and experiments to exchange information. [. . .] Leeuwenhoek published exclusively through correspondence printed in journals in the 1670s. Indeed, letters have been described as ‘‘a longstanding tradition in scientific journals [. . .] written in a predominantly personal style, with the use of the first person’’ (Weber, 1994, p. 259). In the bio-medical journals we investigated, the first letters appeared as such in the 19th century.

2. Characteristics of the genre Contrary to what might be thought, Letters to the Editor do not belong to the epistolary genre. Actually, this correspondence should be considered as deriving from Ôthe open letterÕ genre, thus borrowing some of the journalistic polemic features, and not viewed as life writing, characteristic of the epistolary genre. As in any scientific writing, communication builds up between a scientist or group of scientists and their community, and not between two individuals. They are not real letters, but a way to express oneÕs opinion or to set something straight. However, they always start with the characteristic head shared with the epistolary genre: ÔSirÕ or ÔDear SirÕ. Interestingly enough, our corpus shows that only ÔDear SirÕ is used in


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the American journal (The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition), whereas ÔSirÕ is systematically selected in the British one (The Lancet), which stresses the formal, official, and perhaps somewhat peevish style deliberately chosen by the British editors. These specific conventions will be detailed below. It shares common features with letters published in the quality papers of the European press. ÔOpen lettersÕ are short articles borrowing the lay-out of letters which generally deal with contentious issues in a controversial tone (Robert, 1984, p. 1086). A diachronic overview of The Lancet shows that with time, letters increased in length, number, and regularity. For example, in the 12 April 1873 issue, there were seven letters, and in the 19 April 1873 issue, only five, as opposed to 20 currently published weekly. Moreover, as far as their length is concerned, there were three letters per page on average, whereas today there is only one and yet an average number of 20 letters is now found in each weekly issue of The Lancet, and five in the monthly issue of The American Journal of Nutrition. The first Letters to the Editor appeared in issue 2 of The Lancet, on October 12, 1823, in a section entitled ÔMiscellaneousÕ. Their goal also evolved over the years. They progressively became a genuine and mature genre. From mere clarifications aiming to provide further knowledge on a given research topic, they gradually became a tool to question previously validated research. They have grown as a complementary, and sometimes alternative or transient strategy to build a niche, establish a position and defend it in the scientific community. These letters are present in most medical and biomedical journals. However they do not always bear the same name. The term ÔlettersÕ can thus be confusing since correspondence between researchers and the editor of a journal may bear other names. A wider investigation illustrates this variety: the heading ÔLetters to the EditorÕ is chosen by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN), and for instance by The Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Radiology, Surgery, The American Journal of Physiology, etc. but the term ÔCorrespondenceÕ is preferred by The Lancet, The New England Journal of Medicine, Acta Paediatrica, etc. and in The American Journal of Cardiology, the same column is called ÔReaderÕs commentsÕ. Other names can be found such as ÔLettersÕ in Nature Medicine for example, or ÔCorrespondence and Brief CommunicationsÕ in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, etc. However, the latter headings are misleading since they do not introduce real correspondence, but a totally different type of genre, that is, short communications. Up to very recent times, no recommendations were made concerning letterwriting in scientific journals. Official guidelines were progressively set up in the top American scientific journals such as Science in which, for example, these instructions first appeared in 2000 to indicate the maximum length, the deadline to react to a published article, and the nature of the issues which can be tackled: Letters should be 300 words or less and may be about any item published in Science in the past six months, or about matters of general interest to our readership. Letters may be edited for reasons of clarity or space and they may appear in print and/or on Science on line. Letter writers are generally not consulted before publication. (Science: Guidelines and directions for submis-

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sion of letters to the Editor, 2000, American Association for the Advancement of Science) In our corpus, the two journals introduced a specific paragraph in the Instructions for Authors section under the title ÔInformation for AuthorsÕ (AJCN, 2001) and ÔCorrespondenceÕ (The Lancet, 2002): Letters to the Editor that refer to a recent AJCN article should be received within 12 wk of the articleÕs publication. Letters must be typewritten (double-spaced), should include a title page, should have no more than 10 references, should not exceed 1000 words in length, and will be reviewed and edited before publication. The AJCN does not accept letters that are unrelated to a specific, recently published article or that contain unpublished data. (AJCN ÔInformation for AuthorsÕ, 2001) Comment letters on what has been published in The Lancet must reach the journal within 8 weeks of publication of the original item. Letters of general interest are also welcome even though they are unlinked to earlier items in the journal. Correspondence letters are not usually peer reviewed, but the journal may invite replies from the authors of the original publication. Receipt of correspondence letters is not acknowledged, but authors of those rejected are notified. For accepted letters a proof will be sent only if an e-mail address is provided. Length must not exceed 500 words, only one table or figure is permitted, and there should be no more than five references. No more than five authors can be included. Fax, postal, or electronic submissions are accepted. Electronic submissions should be as a Word file on floppy disk or attached to an e-mail (sent to [email protected]). The corresponding authorÕs signature will be sought at proof stage and is taken to be a signature provided on behalf of all authors. (The Lancet: Information for authors for submission of ÔCorrespondenceÕ, 2002)

3. Purpose and method Using discourse analysis and more particularly the role of context in interpretation (Brown & Yule, 1983, p. 27), our research aimed to answer basic questions on the hidden communication strategies underlying the choices of specialistsÕ communities. Why should scientists spend time and energy writing and/or reading other types of scientific discourse than research articles? Can it be considered as complementary to publishing experimental papers? Does it take part in the validation process of scientific facts? The purpose of this study was thus to answer these questions through the investigation of the most salient discursive strategies used in these letters. We therefore performed a comparative analysis of the rhetorical features and linguistic specificities of this particular genre, using two main angles: Letter to the Editor


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versus research paper and a British journal versus an American journal. The general information we gathered through our linguistic and discursive study led us to analyze the use of the genre Letters to the Editor within a specific community of French researchers according to a questionnaire. The aim of this survey was to better understand the strategies in and around the validation process of scientific facts within the scientific community. Since this is a prospective study on a littlestudied genre, we chose to process our relatively small corpus manually to be able to assess the argumentative pattern before investigating the linguistic specific features. As Banks (2005, p. 208) states, ‘‘small scale studies can frequently act as pilot studies for large scale studies, pointing the ways in which these should be directed’’.

4. Description of the corpus Our present corpus is made up of 200 letters extracted from two leading biomedical journals over a four-year period: 1999–2002. Half of these letters come from The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, an American journal regularly positioned as world number 1 in the field of nutrition and The Lancet, a British journal, considered as world number 2 in the field of medicine, according to the Science Citation Index (SCI). Our corpus does not include all the letters published in the two journals over the four-year period, since we have excluded those which were mere answers to previous letters. We have selected those which react to an original article previously published in the same journal and those which are about matters of general interest for the community of specialists. Another exclusion criterion was the origin of the letters. Only those written by native English speakers or by scientists working in British or American laboratories were included.

5. Results and discussion 5.1. Cognitive strategies In the scientific community at large, a scientific claim is essentially expressed by the research paper, through the use of validated protocols, by the publishing of experimental findings in journals ranked according to their impact factor, and eventually through the reviewing process. Letters to the Editor are on the fringes of this validating process. Authors usually bring contradiction to the scientific fact supposedly established in a previously published paper. The strategy of questioning can be understood as an explicit and implicit mode of criticism leveled at an established scientific fact. But an interesting issue to address here is to understand why authors sometimes choose this mode of expression. The following answers can be suggested:

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 It is for them the quickest way to position themselves on a research theme considered as Ôhot scienceÕ on which they are also working, since having a paper published can take at least several months. To submit an article, scientists must have gathered enough evidence through their results, while a letter will allow them to stake out their territory before all the conclusive evidence is available for publishing.  It may also be the means for a researcher to highlight or rehighlight their own published research, which otherwise might be discredited or relegated due to the publication of an article which contradicts their own results. Letters to the Editor represent a form of contradiction per se of the research paper. They appear to be on the fringes of the discourse validated by the community, but they may be interpreted as a dynamic process leading to discourse production as well. Controversy generally concerns the experimental method selected, the duration of the experiment (most of the time too short due to financial cost), the number of experimental subjects (most of the time too few for the same reasons), results too flimsy or too frail to be exploited. Indeed, they do not only occur as a reaction to the published discourse, but also prior to publication, since they very often relaunch new research on a given theme. This type of discourse can therefore be seen as constructive contradiction. 5.2. Specific features It is obvious that such letters reveal underlying conflicts in the community which are totally ignored or hidden in the experimental research paper in English, unlike research articles written in other languages (Salager-Meyer, Alcaraz Ariza, & Zambrano, 2003). Several studies (Bloch, 2003; Hyland, 2000; Magnet & Carnet, 2001) have suggested that this major difference may induce specific features. The aim of this study is thus to identify and typify the main characteristics. Our corpus enables us to list discursive, linguistic and cultural specificities. 5.2.1. Discursive features An underlying macrostructure. Letters to the Editor can be considered a genre, but not a stable genre, since it has evolved since its origin. A basic feature is their underlying macrostructure whose most common pattern can be described in four moves. If we borrow SwalesÕ famous descriptive analysis mode (Swales, 1981), we suggest the following recurring model (see Table 1). The first move consists in recalling the contested published results. The second move aims at expressing the questioned issue. The third develops arguments backed by the authorÕs own research. Finally, in the fourth move, the author urges their colleagues to review the initial findings of their study under attack before reaching their own conclusion. Although this model is not absolutely systematic, and never explicit, it is however possible to infer a common cognitive pattern for the macrostructure of the Letters to the Editor from our corpus (see Appendix A for a sample letter).


A. Magnet, D. Carnet / English for Specific Purposes 25 (2006) 173–199 A chronological approach. In the research paper, chronological time is totally erased. In contrast, in Letters to the Editor, authors are time-conscious and may often use date and time references. Generally, the letter follows a chronological approach linked to the contentious character of the genre. As is well known in scientific research, the cruel rules to be followed are Ôpublish or perishÕ, and for the most ambitious Ôfirst come, first servedÕ. This is why letters can play a role in the questioning process of the scientific community. They offer the scientist a way to react publicly, almost in real time. They can, in some cases, be a transitory step toward publishing results in the form of an experimental paper. A researcher-centered approach. Contrary to the primary scientific article which aims to establish scientific facts, Letters to the Editor tend to be focused on the researchers themselves and their position in the community. They take into account the authorsÕ reputation in the community, for example, and disagreement around scientific issues may be a disguise for clashes of interests. Through the research paper, it may look as if the sole aim of researchers is scientific progress, whereas through Letters to the Editor, conflicts and competition become explicit. The experimental paper can therefore be described as researchcentered, while Letters to the Editor tend to be researcher-centered. This is why self-mentioning and self-quoting are a common practice in this genre. Moreover, it is worth noting that letters are most of the time signed by only one scientist, unlike research articles, which are most of the time the fruit of collaboration. Of course, this change in focus influences linguistic choices and induces cultural specificities. 5.3. Linguistic features In Letters to the Editor, addressers speak in their own names. Addressees are supposedly the editors of the journals, but in reality, letters are sent to the community of specialists at large and are meant as Ôopen lettersÕ. This personalized form of communication is therefore characterized by the recurrent use of the first person pronouns We, and to a lesser extent I, by the intensive use of the possessive our, by the frequent opposition between we/you, or we/they, or we/he, she. These are clear signs of the opposition between the scientific fact as reported in the primary article and that proposed by the authors of the letter. With this opposition, the strategy aims to weaken the credibility of the scientific fact as established by the questioned experimental paper. 5.3.1. Verb form/tense use The consequence of this change in strategy, and an interesting point to raise in scientific communication, is the very low occurrence of passive structures, which are only used to recall past experiments, reported in the simple past. Thus, the most common grammar tense used is the simple present in about 50% of the cases, which more or less mirrors what has been described for the Discussion section in the research paper (Magnet, 1992, p. 91). The simple past is used in

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35–45% of the cases to report the experiments carried out by the criticized author or by the author of the letter. The simple present is chosen to express the timeless reality of the article at stake. It is neither historical present nor narrative present. It very often refers to the established scientific fact. This peculiar use of the present tense is close to journalistic style. It has no connection with chronological time and follows Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech and SvartvikÕs (1985, pp. 181–182) interpretation: The implication of the present tense seems to be that although the communication event took place in the past, its results – the information communicated – is still operative. Thus . . . the notion that the past can remain alive in the present also explains the optional use of the present tense in sentences referring to writers and composers and their extant works. For example: Ex. 1

Your November 18 editorial suggests reasons for the rise in . . . (The Lancet, 2001, p. 556) In your June editorial ‘‘is blockade of pancreatic lipase the answer?’’, you suggest that. . . (AJCN, 2000, p. 844)

5.3.2. Modality ‘‘Scientific discourse is generally used to weigh evidence and draw conclusions from data. Fundamental characteristics of science are uncertainty, doubt and skepticism [. . .] Linguistically these objectives are realized as hedges which deal with degrees of probability’’ (Salager-Meyer, 1995, p. 127). This is obviously true for the research article (Salager-Meyer, 1994), yet, in our letters, epistemic modality (hedging) has a low occurrence ratio. The most often used modals are should, could, may and would, and to a lesser extent can, must, will, might. Modals only represent 10% of the verbal structures, which is a lower percentage if compared to the research article Discussion section in which they represent 14% of all verbal forms (Magnet, 1992, p. 45). Moreover the modals used in our corpus rarely have an epistemic value. On the contrary, they convey a root meaning used to translate a form of moral advice, expressing in fact strong pressure from the utterer towards the criticized authors. Indeed, if the most widely accepted view is that ‘‘hedging is the process whereby authors tone down their statement in order to reduce the risk of opposition’’ (Salager-Meyer, 1995, p. 127), it is understandable that, in Letters to the Editor, authors should express themselves through root modality. This type of moral advice through which the utterer exerts pressure on the criticized authors, as shown in the first three examples below (in Exs. 2a and 2b), applies to objects and hence makes distancing possible. However, deontic modality, as illustrated by example 2b, can also bear on the animated subject.


Ex. 2a

Ex. 2b

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Slightly deontic radical value: We suggest that these insights could be applied to tailor existing chemotherapeutic drugs to rationalize use of paclitaxel. (The Lancet, 2002, p. 2087) This goal can be facilitated by reducing the amount of fat in the diet. (AJCN, 2000, p. 572) Strong deontic value: First the degree of oxidant stress should be assessed to choose an effective antioxidant regimen (The Lancet, 2001, p. 631) Respectfully, I must suggest we should all beware of inaccurate invectives (The Lancet, 2001, p. 647)

5.3.3. Derogatory style Adjectives and adverbs. Contrary to the depersonalized style observed in the experimental paper, giving vent to direct criticism in disparaging terms in Letters to the Editor is accepted by the community. These critiques borrow from the derogatory style illustrated by the use of specific figures of speech. One of the common ways to bring contradiction is to belittle oneÕs opponent by using highly disparaging terms to qualify their work such as poorly, mistakenly, biased, emotive, confusing, too simplistic, old and outmoded, artificial, vague, speculative, sad. . . The presence of these emotionally-charged adjectives and adverbs is worth mentioning since they are totally absent from the research article. Ex. 3

This design is inappropriate because spontaneous energy intake would normally decrease . . . (AJCN, 2000, p. 854) The concept of lactose intolerance becomes confusing . (AJCN, 2000, p. 600) Unfortunately, only 42 patients were included in the treatment group. (AJCN, 2000, p. 152) The concept of one single determinant of energy balance is far too simplistic (AJCN, 2000, p. 154) The original method for determining a quantitative value for vitamin E was a tedious biological system based on . . . (AJCN, 2000, p. 201) The article by Vatassery et al. on the use of vitamin E in the aged perpetuates an old and outmoded set of values for the comparative bioavailability . . . (AJCN, 2000, p. 201) The conclusions reached by Schaefer et al. are based on a highly artificial context distinctly different from that for which food-frequency questionnaires were designed. (AJCN, 2000, p. 1235) It is sad to see a journal as venerable as ÔThe LancetÕ debase itself in this way. (The Lancet, 2002, p. 1971) We are astounded that such frivolous allegations should have been made by academics from a reputable school of public health. (The Lancet, 2002, p. 1982)

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183 Nouns and verbs. Our corpus reveals a massive use of nouns and verbs which are totally absent from the research paper, since these derogatory terms usually belong to the critical style. They reflect strong subjectivity. We found nouns such as critique, rebuttal, borderline, reductionism, blurring. . . and verbs such as refute, rebut, fail to, contend, disagree, reject, challenge, invalidate. . . Ex. 4 The editorial written about our paper by Willett deserves rebuttal because it was essentially a critique of our article. (AJCN, 1999, p. 572) In cases in which values are borderline, a repeat test should be conducted. (AJCN, 2000, p. 601) We went on to refute each of WillettÕs examples with examples that we felt were more appropriate. (AJCN, 1999, p. 572) The sort of reductionism embodied in the interpretation of data from this cohort runs the risk of severely misleading discourse on meaningful public health programs. (AJCN, 2000, p. 850) Thus it is not surprising that there would be a blurring of dietary intakes assessed by . . . (AJCN, 2000, p. 1235) We disagree with Graham and colleaguesÕ interpretation. (The Lancet, 2002, p. 1976) Talal fails to account for two important issues. (The Lancet, 2002, p. 2088) Negative prefixes used before adjectives. The adjective is a linguistic tool mainly used to specify and qualify the notion expressed by the noun. It is less commonly used in scientific discourse than in standard English. Yet, in our corpus, we observed an extensive use of adjectives, and interestingly enough, most of them carry a negative prefix whose aim is to weaken the arguments set out in the targeted paper. These prefixes are in-, un-, out-, under-, mis-: ininappropriate, inaccurate, inconsistent, incomplete, intemperate, incorrect, implausible . . . Ex. 5

We felt this was an inappropriate way to analyse the data (AJCN, 1999, p. 572) Overall, there are inconsistent data regarding the likely estrogenic and antiestrogenic effects of soy on breast tissue data (AJCN, 1999, p. 574) In vitro systems are incomplete and may not permit . . . (AJCN, 1999, p. 574) In conclusion, there are insufficient data on which to draw definite conclusions about data (AJCN, 1999, p. 574) We believe it is incorrect to consider high-fat monoene diets the most healthy choice for sedentary people. (AJCN, 2000, p. 854) At this time, we have insufficient information about potential benefits . . . We also have incomplete information about the chemical forms found in foods for use as a guideline in . . . (AJCN, 2000, p. 1211)


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The suggestion by Ozols that the dose of carboplatin could explain our results is implausible, because the same carboplatin regimens were used in the control arm and the test arm (The Lancet, 2002, p. 2088) Although not new – M Sulkowski and colleagues use the same term – this definition is incorrect. (The Lancet, 2002, p. 2088) ununreliable, unexpected, unproven, unsupported, unclear, unaware, unfounded, unfortunate. . . Ex. 6 Most unexpected however was the unsupported conclusion. (The Lancet, 2001, p. 633) However, it is unclear whether these epidemiological data, which involved primarily Asian women, can be used to assess the effect of. . . (AJCN, 1999, p. 574) It is unfortunate that Kris-Etherton et al. did not report anything about these aspects of their experimental diets. . . . (AJCN, 2000, p. 854) outoutmoded. . . Ex. 7 The recent review article by (. . .) on the use of vitamin E in the aged perpetuates an old outmoded set of values for the comparative study. (AJCN, 2000, p. 201) underunderpowered, understated. . . Ex. 8 I believe that their study was underpowered to reach this conclusion. (The Lancet, 2001, p. 553) mismisleading, misused, misdirected. . . Ex. 9 CooksonÕs comments and his selective presentation of data are, however, misleading. (The Lancet, 2001, p. 555) Thus, using the term intrinsically labeled soy milk to describe soy milk to which [45Ca]TCP has been added is confusing or even misleading. (AJCN, 2002, p. 128)

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185 Specific markers. The linguistic investigation we have carried out on the letters reveals the specific use of markers traditionally used to argue. We have thus classified these markers into four groups which all express disagreement, but with different levels of intensity. These markers refer to four discursive strategies. Concession. The weakest markers used to contradict somebodyÕs opinion express concession. They are common to all forms of discourse, including the research article. The most recurrent forms present in our corpus are although, however, but, yet, nevertheless, nonetheless, even if, even though. Ex. 10 Although I agree that food-frequency questionnaires are not an optimal method for assessing . . . the conclusions reached by . . . are based on . . . (AJCN, 2000, p. 1235) However, the authors themselves ignore or underplay four central issues. (The Lancet, 2002, p. 2073) These markers are used to diminish or belittle the impact of published observations and conclusions. Antithesis. Authors may wish to express their opposition in a stronger way. In order to do so, they repeatedly select markers such as but, while, whereas, conversely, by contrast, in contrast, otherwise, instead, unlike, opposite. Ex. 11 There was an effect of non-fatal myocardial infarction but not mortality, whereas in GISSI-Prevenzione trial, their opposite seems to have been shown. (The Lancet, 2001, p. 631) This linguistic device aims to oppose two ideas, two protocols, or two methodologies to demonstrate the superiority of the supported team. Rewording. Some markers are used to reformulate a previous statement and incite the criticized authors to change their minds, and possibly their methods or conclusions. It is in fact an illustration of the pragmatics of politeness (Myers, 1989) generally observed in scientific discourse: rather, better, more accurately, in other words. Ex. 12 This finding does not show no risk of DVT for air travel, rather that the risk must be small. (The Lancet, 2001, p. 555) Doubt. Finally, the weakest way of explicitly questioning a method is to raise doubts concerning the validity of the study: maybe, perhaps, probably, highly unlikely, wonder whether, far from verified. Ex. 13 Perhaps a more pertinent study would be one that investigates why editors feel compelled to challenge not only the management of obesity but the very existence of the disease itself. (AJCN, 2000, p. 845)


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I consider it far from verified that early invasive procedure improve survival . . . (The Lancet, 2002, p. 1972)

5.3.4. Implicit disagreement The use of implicit disagreement can be considered a more subtle and less direct way to modulate contradiction. This weak contentious mode tends to express the uttererÕs disagreement with the work under debate through forms which invariably involve a reference back to the utterer. These forms may be: We find it surprising that. . ., Therefore we strongly suggest. . ., Therefore we think. . ., I have several comments. . ., I showed clearly. . ., In my opinion. . ., We believe. . ., We are aware. . ., We advocate doing this. . .. By asserting their own results, letter writers actually contradict and criticize the results of the studies they are referring to. It can be understood as implicit criticism. However, it is surprising to note that it is more frequently observed in the American journal than in the British one. Could this implicit mode of criticism be interpreted as a good example of the American tendency towards political correctness, or should other reasons be sought to explain the apparent difference in intensity between the British and the American journals? 5.4. Cultural specificities 5.4.1. The politically correct mode in the American journal There is a sharp contrast in the tone and style used in the two journals. In the American journal, what we interpret as politically correct consists in focusing all the criticism on the object (experiment, selected methodology), rather than on the subject (research team). This attitude leads the lettersÕ authors to use understatement and hedging through modalized forms. Ex. 14 Finally Bray and PopkinÕs conclusion about energy density must be regarded as an interesting but unproven hypothesis . . . I suspect the hypothesis may prove to be overly simplistic. (AJCN, 1999, p. 573) It seems that an intake 1.9 fold that of the control group may be required to observe a positive effect of ALA. (AJCN, 2002, p. 903)

Ex. 15 However, the main controversy seems to be the interpretation of the results of former studies. We respectfully disagree with the authorsÕ optimistic review. (AJCN, 2002, p. 904) Conversely, the British journal is replete with overtly polemical phrases, which may even be aggressive:

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Ex. 16 The study was poorly designed, retrospective, and biased. (The Lancet, 2001, p. 553)

Ex. 17 I think that Sandra SimkinÕs report is inappropriate, inaccurate, and emotive. (The Lancet, 2001, p. 641) These two examples reveal a particularly offensive and objectionable attitude. This type of overt criticism illustrates both the researcher-centered attitude mentioned above and the lack of restraint observed in some British letters. 5.4.2. Social and cultural references Some letters bear a title and contain references that could never be found in a research article. These titles may conjure up a cultural background supposedly shared by the whole scientific community, but actually only familiar to native speakers. References can be cultural and/or humorous. Bible quotations. In some cases, English-speaking writers disguise their biting critique under cultural references by including quotations from the Bible. Even though the Bible is a universal cultural heritage, it is well known that it is more prevalent in Anglo-Saxon culture. It would therefore be difficult for a non-native English speaker to understand the hint, and even more so to embezzle from the cultural background to express criticism in such a way. Ex. 18 Seek and thou shalt find Patino et al. doubt the presence of endotoxin in their study cohort, although we know it to be present in the general population. Higher endotoxin levels in patients with diabetes mellitus and arterial disease may be expected and should be sought. (AJCN, 2000, p. 1054) It is through irony that this phrase borrowed from the New Testament ‘‘Ask and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find’’ (Matthew, VII, 7, Luke, XI, 9), appears as particularly disparaging toward the methodology of the scrutinized team. Neologizing. The use of impish neologisms to reveal the inadequacy of a terminology commonly used in the scientific community can make us smile, but it is truly meant to ridicule their authors. For example, the use of the word vegetarian, considered as too vague and inaccurate is criticized. This leads the authors to all sorts of ludicrous or wild variations on the theme.


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Ex. 19 In an attempt to add more specificity in the scientific literature, various qualifying terms for vegetarian have been used, such as pescovegetarian and lactoovovegetarian. For one person I know who considers himself a vegetarian, an appropriate label might be lactoovopescopoulo-steak-onlywhen-I-eat-out vegetarian. (AJCN, 2000, p. 1211) This is indeed humorous criticism of scientific popularization terminology used by a community that usually claims a highly specialized vocabulary. Sayings. Authors sometimes borrow sayings which can, for instance, be aphorisms. In the following example, the meaning only appears in the conclusion of the letter. The author of the letter criticizes their colleaguesÕ lack of professionalism, since they were unable to detect subtle changes which are likely to have dramatic health consequences. Ex. 20 ‘‘Small is beautiful’’: a-linolenic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid in man [. . .] Minor changes in dietary lipids may be most significant in thrombosis prevention. (AJCN, 1999, p. 1169) Others borrow from popular songs: Ex. 21 Mechanical circulatory support – a long and winding road. (AJCN, 2000, p. 1222) Through these ironical comments, true sarcasm can even be perceived. It should also be added that biblical quotations and sayings do not characterize this genre contrary to the other linguistic features mentioned above. However, their very presence, even if modest in number, typifies this sort of discourse versus the research article. All these techniques based on irony and humor through the use of phrases borrowed from other genres, are totally out of reach for non-native English speakers. Reference to a common non-scientific cultural background characterizes the genre Letters to the Editor, as opposed to the research article, and may explain why international biomedical journals contain far fewer letters by non-native English writers. This has led us to investigate the impact and representation of this mode of scientific expression within a community of French researchers.

6. Use of these letters in a French-speaking scientific community We analyzed the goal, role and use of the genre Letters to the Editor through a survey based on a questionnaire whose results we report and discuss.

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6.1. Presentation of the questionnaire The 24-point questionnaire aimed to assess three different strategies, namely why some scientists spend time reading letters, why others write them, and finally what sort of impact this genre may have on the community at large. 6.1.1. Objectives of the questionnaire The first four questions focused on the Ôpassive useÕ of the Letters to the Editor, that is, their reading. Our aim was to measure the importance attached to the letters through the time allotted by researchers to reading them as well as the strategies developed in the choice of the journals and how often they read them. Then, the next 12 questions investigated the Ôactive useÕ of the genre, that is writing letters. We assessed the reasons motivating this initiative, the acceptance or refusal by the reviewing committee, the specific technique to write less conventional scientific English, and eventually expectations of this correspondence with journals. Finally, the last eight questions were intended to measure the impact of the letters on the workings of the specialistsÕ community and on the researchersÕ careers through the experience of the scientists who answered our questionnaire. 6.1.2. Targeted audience This questionnaire was sent to two communities of French scientists, the former made up of researchers in medicine, the latter of researchers in different fields of biology. It was sent to the 220 researchers who belong to the Life and Health scientific community of the University of Burgundy in Dijon, France. We collected 101 answers (45%), considered representative of these communities. 6.2. Results 6.2.1. Reading We first wanted to ascertain whether reading Letters to the Editor is still a common practice in the researchersÕ professional life. A vast majority of readers (84%) reported reading them, not systematically, but regularly, in one or several journals. It is a matter of keeping informed about the hot issues in their respective fields, to learn about the contentious debates in a quick and efficient way. Reading the correspondence to journals does not necessarily follow the publishing of their article. This shows that they are not particularly interested in the reactions their papers may trigger, or that the validation granted by the reviewers brings them enough comfort and confidence in their research. When they read letters, they tend to scan them in order to keep up to date with the new paradigms (see Table 1). 6.2.2. Writing and publication Fifty-six percent of the surveyed scientists have already used this mode of expression, among whom 20% have sent one letter, 14% two letters, and 22% several letters. It is worth noting that 43% of the submitted letters were published, which is in stark


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Table 1 Macrostructure of letters to the Editor Strategy

Formulation: Examples extracted from our corpus

Move 1

Reminder of the published results under attack

Move 2

Presentation of the challenged issue

Move 3

Arguments supported by the own research of the letterÕs author contradicting the contended results

Move 4

Conclusion and strong pressure to reconsider the initial findings

 We read with interest the work by. . .(AJCN, 72, 2000, p. 199)  The recent study of (. . .) examined the association between. . .(AJCN, 72, 2000, p. 1059)  The report by Kraaijenhagen and colleagues adds nothing to the debate. . .(The Lancet, 357, 2001, p. 553)  I believe that their study was underpowered to reach this conclusion. . .(The Lancet, 357, 2001, p. 553)  Yet, we showed no significant decrease. . .(The Lancet, 357, 2001, p. 558)  First and foremost, we feel that an important aspect of our studies (. . .) was missed. . .(AJCN, 72, 2000, p. 1234)  Given the distinguished provenance of this wisdom, it is truly urgent that nutritionists resolve this issue now. . .(AJCN, 1999, p. 70)  -It is time for some UK doctors to take their heads out of the sand. . .(The Lancet, 357, 2001, p. 555)

Table 2 Justification for refusing the publication of a letter Lack of interest for the journal

Poor writing

No justification

Not documented enough to question the contended article





contrast to what is observed with the research paper. If we refer to The Lancet, we must keep in mind that 33% of the letters received by the journal are actually published (Mullan, 2003, p. 12), whereas only 10% of the submitted articles end up being published in that journal.1 Conversely, letters are published more rapidly, around two months for 50% of the cases, and three months or more for the remaining 50%. Refusing a letter (Table 2) is often justified by the journal on account of its lack of interest for their readers (59.6%). Actually, this may hide other less politically or scientifically correct reasons such as competition between different teams on the same topic, the supposedly lower reliability of junior researchers in the community, the fact that a contending letter would question the whole validation process of scientific research normally performed through peer-reviewing. 1

Percentage communicated by the editor of The Lancet in a letter dated February 16, 1998.

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The other usual type of criticism focuses on writing skills (21%). It is aimed both at the poor quality of the English used, as well as the discursive and stylistic features of the genre. This is of course particularly true for non-native English speakers who generally submit far fewer letters. Finally, in 9% of the answers, the letters were refused for a lack of documented arguments against the criticized article. Interestingly enough, 47% of the French-speaking researchers surveyed admitted their difficulty in and reluctance to writing this type of scientific publication in English, and 48% of letter writers confessed to using the cut and paste technique with the help of already published letters as they often do when writing research papers. In any case, most of them chose to write directly in English and this did not seem to be a major obstacle. Forty percent of the researchers surveyed find it as difficult to write a letter to the editor as it is to write an experimental paper, and 50% find it less difficult. This latter estimation may be interpreted as requiring less time. Indeed, writing a one-page letter is less strenuous than writing a 10-page article. If this type of written discourse does not raise major problems for scientists, we should still try and understand why the average French-speaking researcher uses this type of writing less than the AngloAmerican scientific community does. 6.3. Descriptive analysis and interpretation The French scientists surveyed may have various reasons for writing letters, but the majority of them (65%) do so to bring further information or to set a particular point straight. Rebutting and questioning the methodology used account for only 26.5%. Editors and reviewers are probably more reluctant to publish a letter whose aim is to rebut already published articles, most particularly when the arguments are put forward by young researchers. The challenge of a paradigm must rely on scientific facts, and not only on somebodyÕs opinion. For young scientists, writing a wellargued letter may be a way to find a niche within the community. Although only 1.5% of the letters are devoted to the heralding of forthcoming research, they may be considered truly significant since they are actually mini articles which will be recorded as such by the community when all the particulars of the experiments are published (Table 3). Measuring the consequences of a published letter in terms of feedback and impact on their careers is difficult for researchers. Among the scientists surveyed who managed to have a letter published, more than half were not able to assess the feedback accurately (Table 4). The remaining 44% answered that their letters had triggered responses ranging from mere mail/e-mail exchanges (13%), to enhanced recognition within their community (4%). Sometimes it led them to include these letters in their Table 3 Motivation for writing a letter to the Editor Further information


Rebuttal and questioning

Outstanding case reports

Inquiry for more information

Heralding a hot article to come








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Table 4 Assessing the repercussions of publishing a Letter to the Editor No feedback

Very modest feedback

Exchange of letters, e-mails with other scientists

Perfecting the research

Recognition in the community

Frequent quoting in journals







Table 5 Assessing the impact of a Letter to the Editor Impact on the career

Impact on the community



Does not know

No answer



Does not know

No answer









lists of published research (8%). For 7% of the scientists surveyed, having a letter published is a way to perfect their own research, and particularly their methodology. Though a majority of researchers (64%) think that having a letter published did not necessarily induce any significant positive outcome on their careers (Table 5), half of the surveyed scientists think that this exchange of views plays a beneficial role within their community. For the community, a letter on a hot research theme in a highly ranked journal may be the first step toward questioning a well established paradigm. Indeed, for 64% of the researchers surveyed, a letter may be the favored means to start open exchange with a competing team, and according to 50% of these scientists, this sort of publishing may influence the standing of some researchers in the community. Yet, many of them indicate that this influence will only be effective if the authors already have a good reputation among the specialists. This relational mode is deemed satisfactory and rather efficient since it enables them to inform, in a quick and efficient manner, more people than a mere presentation at a conference. This may allow researchers to establish a niche before submitting more substantial results for publication. Finally, it also allows some researchers to later justify an experimental protocol which has been much criticized by peers. To conclude, 66% of letter authors admitted including the published letters in their lists of publications. However, these appear separately from their research articles, and they can never be granted the status of major works. It should be remembered that 44% of the French-speaking scientists surveyed have never submitted a Letter to the Editor to journals published in English.

7. Conclusion: Future prospects for letters to the editor? Letters to the Editor can be seen as a useful, and even necessary, but not self-sufficient communication tool within the scientific community. They reflect tensions in the community. Their most interesting role is to provide researchers with an outlet

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for frustrations, oppositions, controversies, and disagreements. Letters enable them to escape from the formal and impersonal constraints of the research article style. Above all, they may constitute a breeding ground for new research by bringing new ideas, new paths to explore, or new prospects for future collaborations. That is why these letters still play a key role among the scientific community at large, and this also explains why numerous on-line scientific journals have kept a section devoted to correspondence. Actually, writing Letters to the Editor may appear as an irrepressible need for some scientists since it allows them to react swiftly, personally, and sometimes contentiously to issues with which they feel directly concerned. Our detailed analysis showed that it is a highly subjective genre as opposed to the well-known objectivity of the research paper. Skimming letters seems to be a quick and efficient means for researchers to keep informed about the latest research in their specific fields, to hear about current controversies in their communities, and to learn about various conflicting reactions to previously published articles. However, they do not represent any sort of true validation since, unlike the research paper, there is no reviewing process as such. Moreover, this genre does not offer equal opportunities to the international community of researchers. It is a mode that non-native English speakers find hard to master. Irony, humor and cultural references which are difficult to tackle in a foreign language may explain why native English speakers represent the vast majority of authors. This prospective study brings to the fore the strategies underlying the genre and suggests certain avenues to explore which may confirm its characterization. The formal and cultural features of this little-explored form of discourse deserve more research work from our community of LSP specialists, so as to confirm the hypothesis that it is a genuine and enduring genre.

Appendix A. Sample of a letter: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2003,77, p. 521 A.1. Letters to the Editor a-Linolenic acid, linoleic acid, coronary artery disease, and overall mortality. Dear Sir: The study by Djousse´ et al. (1) concludes that a higher intake of both a-linolenic (18.3n-3) and linoleic acid (18:2n-6) is inversely related to the risk of coronary artery disease (CAD) in a high-risk population. The authors report about one-half the risk of CAD in going from the lower to the upper quintiles of a-linoleic acid intake. As mentioned by the authors, this result is consistent with a growing body of evidence indicating the overall health benefit of a-linolenic acid and, indeed, of all n-3 fatty acids. Interestingly, the most protective intake of a-linolenic acid in this study was the mean a-linolenic acid intake in the United States. This intake is about one-half of the adequate intake of 2.2 g/2000 kcal (1% of energy) proposed in the consensus document (Internet: http://www.issfal.org/uk/adequateintakes.htm) from the working group that met under the auspices of the International Society for the Study of Fatty


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Acids and Lipids (ISSFAL). This suggests that the benefits of a-linolenic acid increase at intakes >l g/d. The benefit is more likely to be optimal at an intake closer to 2 g/d, as indicated by the cardio-protective effects of the a-linolenic acid-enriched (and linoleic acid-reduced) diet studied by de Lorgeril et al. (2). Djousse´ et al. report correctly that a-linolenic acid is found mainly in flaxseed, soybeans, canola oil, and English walnuts. However, contrary to what they state, almonds and hazelnuts contain no a-linolenic acid, and corn oil is a very poor source. Although it contains 59% linoleic acid, corn oil provides only 0.7% a-linolenic acid (Internet: http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/cgibin/nut_search.pl). The ratio between these fatty acids is 84:1, whereas the ratio for an adequate intake proposed by ISSFAL is 2:1. Hence, corn oil should not be seen as contributing in any meaningful way to a-linolenic acid intake because 1 tbsp provides 8 g linolenic acid only 0.1 g a-linolenic acid. The conclusion that linoleic acid reduces the risk of CAD needs to be examined carefully. This conclusion seems to be based on the data in Table 8 of Djousse´ et alÕs article, in which the tertile for the highest linoleic acid intake and the lowest a-linolenic acid intake as of insufficient size of provide a stable estimate. The next tertile for a-linolenic acid, at the same high linoleic acid intake, did not show a decreased risk, whereas only in the group with the highest a-linolenic intake and high linoleic acid intake was a reduced risk found. Also, tertiles seem to be a relatively crude measure for changes in dietary fatty acid intakes, whereas the close association of linoleic acid with a-linolenic acid in foods makes it difficult to separate adequately their individual effects. Therefore, we think that this association, although perhaps statistically valid, is tenuous. Nevertheless, on the basis of the conclusion of Djousse´ et alÕs study and some other recent dietary recommendations (3), there would appear to be no prudent upper limit of linoleic acid intake. However, this widespread public health support for a high linoleic acid intake is not borne out by the literature, as carefully scrutinized by Ravnskov (4). High linoleic acid intakes are not associated with reduced all-cause mortality, as are high a-linolenic acid intakes (5). Indeed, Yam et al. (6) suggest that the Israeli Paradox - a high incidence of CAD, cancer, and other degenerative diseases in Israel - may well be related to high linoleic acid intakes. Therefore, epidemiologic studies covering <2 decades are, at best, unconvincing about the benefits of high linoleic acid intakes. In addition, the results of 2 blinded clinical intervention trials of linoleic acid supplementation clearly question the overall health benefit of high linoleic acid intakes (7, 8). In both trials, animal and saturated fats were essentially replaced with corn oil. The first trial, by Rose et al. (7), found that after 2 years, 75% of the control group remained free of coronary events as opposed to only 52% of those who consumed high-linoleic acid corn oil. They concluded that ‘‘. . . under the circumstances of this trial, corn oil cannot be recommended in the treatment of ischaemic heat disease.’’ The second trial, by Pearce and Dayton (8), is also known as the Veterans Trial. These authors reported, as did many others in the 1960s and 1970s, on the replacement of saturated fatty acids with polyunsaturates but ignored the confounding role of n-3 fatty acids in some of the oils used. However, the dietary analysis in the Veterans Trial clearly shows that it was a linoleic acid trial in which the mean linoleic acid contents

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were 10% and 38% of total fats ( 11 and 41 g/d, respectively) and the mean a-linolenic acid contents were 0.7% and 1.6% of total fats ( 0.8 and 1.7 g/d, respectively) in the control and experimental groups, respectively. The ratios of n-6 (linoleic acid) to n-3 (a-linolenic acid) fatty acids were 14:1 and 24:1, respectively. Pearce and Dayton (8) reported that the reduction in CAD with increased linoleic acid intakes was offset by twice the cancer incidence in the second half of this 8-yeartrial (8). Total mortality was unchanged; 59% survived (250 of 424 subjects) in the linoleic acid-supplemented group and 58% survived (244 survivors of 422 subjects) in the control group. This trial raises the crucial issue of overall mortality, which is often ignored in the evaluation of specific endpoints such as CAD. In summary, we believe that Djousse´ et alÕs conclusion is well supported, i.e. that high a-linolenic acid intakes are inversely related to the risk of CAD, as they are with overall mortality (5). However, blinded clinical trials of the effects of high linoleic acid intakes (7, 8) indicate potential deleterious effects on long-term health. These clinical trials and others (9, 10) suggest caution regarding the high amounts of linoleic acid in Western diets. The uncertainties about the merits of unlimited linoleic acid intake caused ISSFAL to recommend an upper limit of linoleic acid intake of 6.7 g/d (3% of energy). We therefore wish to stress the importance of trials of longer duration and the evaluation of endpoints that must include noncardiac effects and total mortality. We encourage people to abandon the overly simple concept of the ratio of polyunsaturated to saturated fatty acids. We suggest that dietary studies be specific regarding the respective amounts of these 2 families of polyunsaturates. We have outlined some of the evidence for questioning the overall health merits of current linoleic acid intakes in Westerns societies. Because linoleic acid constitutes most of the polyunsaturated fatty acid component of the ratio of polyunsaturated to saturated fatty acids, we suggest that reports be specific and refer to high intakes of linoleic acid if it is the main fatty acid under study. Prior to the introduction of solvent-extracted vegetable oils and soy- and corn-based animal husbandry over approximately the past 70 years, no population had been exposed to the current intakes of linoleic acid. We may well be experiencing the ‘‘linoleic acid paradox’’, in which a supposedly healthy fatty acid (i.e. one that lowers total cholesterol) is associated with increasing rates of cancer and inflammatory and cardiovascular diseases during these same decades. Compounding and confounding this paradox are low intakes of a-linolenic acid and other n-3 (fish) oils. Eddie Vos 127 Courser Road Sutton, Quebec, J0E 2K0 Canada E. mail: [email protected] Stephen C Cunnane Department of Nutritional Sciences Faculty of Medicine University of Toronto Toronto, Ontario M5S 3E2, Canada


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Underlying macrostructure: Move Move Move Move

1: 2: 3: 4:

§1&2 (Reminder of the published results under attack) §3&4 (Presentation of the challenged issue) §5–9 (Contradicting the contended results) §10&11 (Strong pressure to reconsider the initial findings)

Appendix B. Questionnaire (Tick the appropriate box) The use of letters to the Editor in a researchersÕ community. A. Reading 1. Do you ever read letters to the Editor? hOften? hSometimes? hNever? 2. Do you systematically read the letters to the Editor from a few specific journals? hYes hNo 3. If yes, which ones?

4. Do you preferably read letters to the Editor in the issues following the publishing of one of your papers? hYes hNo B. Writing 5. Have you ever submitted a Letter to the Editor? hOnce? hTwice? h3 times? hMore? 6. What was its aim? hRebuttal hContradiction hFurther information hSet points hQuestioning the experimental protocols hOthers? Which ones? 7. Has this letter been published? hYes hNo 8. If yes, how long did it take (approximately)?

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9. What feedback did you get? 10. Have you ever been refused a letter? hYes hNo 11. What were the reasons given by the reviewer? 12. Has writing a letter in English ever been an obstacle? hYes hNo 13. Do you find this kind of writing hmore difficult to write than a research paper? has difficult? hless difficult? 14. Do you use other letters as a model when writing a letter? hYes hNo 15. Did you write it directly in English (1) or did you write it first in your native language and then translated it (2)? h(1) h(2) 16. Is this practice in agreement with your scientific writing habits? hYes hNo C. Analysis and interpretation 17. Do you think that this type of scientific writing may influence the positioning of some researchers or that of the community toward a paradigm? hYes hNo 18. Is the letter you succeeded in publishing listed among your quoted papers? hYes hNo 19. Do you think writingletters to the Editor is a waste of time for a researcher? hYes hNo 20. Do you think they have an impact on the researchersÕ community? hYes hNo 21. Do you think they have an impact on your career? hYes hNo 22. Do you think it is worth starting an exchange with a competing team through this mode of expression? hYes hNo


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23. If yes, why did you choose this particular mode of expression? 24. Do you have a particular comment, an anecdote, to add about this particular mode of expression? References Bazerman, C. (1988). Shaping written knowledge. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. Banks, D. (2005). The case of Perrin and Thomson: An example of the use of a mini-corpus. English for Specific Purposes, 24(12), 201–211. Behe, M. J. (2002). Correspondence with science journals: Response to critics concerning peer-review. In Available: Access Research Network, http: www.arn.org/docs/behe/mb_correspondencewithsciencejournals.htm. Berkenkotter, C., & Huckin, T. N. (1995). Genre knowledge in disciplinary communication: Cognition, culture, power. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Blakeslee, A. (1994). The rhetorical construction of novelty: Presenting claims in a letters forum. Science, Technology, and Human Values, 19(1), 88–100. Bloch, J. (2003). Creating materials for teaching evaluation in academic writing: Using letters to the Editor in L2 composition courses. English for Specific Purposes, 22(4), 365–385. Brown, G., & Yule, G. (1983). Discourse analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Carnet, D., & Magnet, A. (2002). Letters to the Editor: Strate´gies dÕutilisation par une communaute´ de chercheurs francophones et tentative de caracte´risation du genre. ASp, 35–36, 89–102. Crane, D. (1972). Invisible colleges. Diffusion of knowledge in scientific communities. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Hopkins, A., & Dudley-Evans, T. (1988). A genre-based investigation of the discussion sections in articles and dissertations. English for Specific Purposes, 7(2), 113–121. Hyland, K. (2000). Disciplinary discourses: Social interactions in academic writing. Harlow: Longman. Lancet (The) (2002). Information for authors for submission of ÔCorrespondenceÕ, vol. 359, N 9300. Magnet, A., (1992). La discussion de lÕarticle scientifique de recherche en anglais: quelques aspects linguistiques et discursifs dans trente-six articles de nutrition. MasterÕs dissertation, University of Bordeaux II, France. Magnet, A., & Carnet, D. (2001). Quelques aspects de la contradiction et de la remise en cause dans le genre Letters to the Editor. ASp, 31–34, 51–62. Myers, G. A. (1989). The pragmatics of politeness in scientific articles. Applied Linguistics, 10, 1–35. Mullan, Z. (2003). Lancet correspondence: old letters, new rules. The Lancet, 361, 12. Quirk, R., Greenbaum, S., Leech, G., & Svartvik, J. (1985). A comprehensive grammar of the English language. London: Longman. Robert, (1984). Le petit Robert 1, Robert, Paris. Salager-Meyer, F. (1994). Hedges and textual communicative function in medical English written discourse. English for Specific Purposes, 13(2), 149–170. Salager-Meyer, F. (1995). I think that perhaps you should: A study of hedges in written scientific discourse. The Journal of Tesol-France, 127–143. Salager-Meyer, F., Alcaraz Ariza, M. A., & Zambrano, N. (2003). The scimitar, the dagger and the glove: intercultural differences in the rhetoric of criticism in Spanish, French and English Medical Discourse (1930–1995). English for Specific Purposes, 22(3), 223–247. Science (2000). Guidelines and directions for submission of letters to the Editor. American Association for the Advancement of Science. Swales, J. (1981). Aspects of article introductions. Birmingham, UK: The University of Aston, Language Studies Unit. Swales, J. (1990). Genre analysis: English in academic and research settings. Glasgow: Cambridge University Press.

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Weber, P. (1994). The function of questions in different medical journal genres. English for Specific Purposes, 13(3), 257–268. Anne Magnet is a Senior Lecturer in the English Department of the Life Science Faculty at the University of Burgundy, Dijon, France. She holds a Ph.D. in English linguistics (University of Burgundy). Her main interests are scientific discourse analysis and applied linguistics. She has published a number of papers on the discursive and linguistic features of scientific English. Didier Carnet is a Senior Lecturer in the English Department of the Dijon Med School, University of Burgundy, France. He holds a Ph.D. in English linguistics. His main research is in didactics and applied linguistics in English for Medical Purposes. He has published numerous articles, several books and CDRoms on medical English.