A Note About Self-Promotion

I’m both a commentator and a guy who sells stuff. Those two roles sometimes bump up against each other in a way that can look awkward.

For one thing, I tell anyone willing to listen that if an organization wants to put its contract process on a rational footing, it should adopt a comprehensive style guide for contract language, but that it’s not realistic to expect that it would have the resources and expertise to create the style guide itself. Now, if there were a bunch of comprehensive style guides out there, that wouldn’t pose a problem. But the fact is that A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting is the only game in town, and I haven’t been shy about recommending that any organization that wants to adopt a style guide should piggyback off of MSCD, in the manner outlined in this post. That opens me up to accusations that my recommendation is motivated by self-interest.

The clearest way to avoid this issue would be for me to stop making that recommendation. But I’m not going to engage in that sort of self-censorship, as it would prevent me from presenting a coherent analysis of what’s wrong with mainstream contract drafting and what’s required to fix it.

In any event, I hope that I’ve built up enough credibility over the years such that anyone interested in contract drafting wouldn’t worry that I’m shilling my own wares.

But the question I’m currently pondering is whether I should acknowledge this issue in an article I’m working on. Here’s a sentence that’s in the current draft, right after I recommend that organizations piggyback off of MSCD: “The awkward fact that this author has no option but to recommend his own work shouldn’t render that recommendation inherently suspect.” What do you think? [I know it’s lame! Thanks already to @rickcolosimo for emailing me an alternative.]

Here’s another, related, issue. I recently sent that work-in-progress to a law-school professor for his review. One of his comments was “I increasingly felt like this turned into a self-promotional piece (by my count, 15 of the 35 footnotes are cites to yourself).” Here’s my I have no problem with citing myself lots:

A citation in an article serves one of two functions. Either it says, “This guy supports my interpretation!,” or it says, “Find more information here!” In the article in question, most of the citations are of the latter variety. And the fact is that there’s very little out there comparable to what I do. A few years ago I set myself the informal goal that I would write the definitive account of any issue that interested me, and I think I’ve succeeded in doing that (although there’s doubtless stuff out there I don’t know about). So for the most part I have no choice—if I want to provide the reader with optimally informative leads, I have to cite myself.

Some of the writings that I point to cite analysis by others. I could cite that other analysis in the article in question, but I don’t want to clog up a short law-review article with a bunch of clunky citations to tangential authorities.

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.

8 thoughts on “A Note About Self-Promotion”

  1. As long as it comes across transparently that you are striving to provide your readers with the best information and value, noting that there are not many other authorities active in the field, then I can’t see a problem. Surely quality is more important than false modesty.

  2. I take your point about the two types of footnote, assuming that the first type – “This guy supports my interpretation” – means that you are linking to evidence rather than simply to someone who agrees with you. (The latter obviously isn’t very useful.)
    In principle, there is absolutely nothing wrong with citing yourself to point to further reading – if you didn’t think MSCD was good further reading, you wouldn’t have written it. But where you do cite yourself, it will generally look as if you are using yourself to support your argument – i.e. as if the footnote is to evidence your point, rather than provide further information. It therefore looks bad to the reader, which is what you probably care about, so I understand where the law-school professor was coming from.
    I don’t know what style is required of the article, but I would just leave those citations out. You could instead have at the end of the article, as I often see (so you probably do as well!), a note saying something like “Kenneth Adams is the author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting”. People will understand that there is more information there, without it looking like you are taking MSCD as authority for the points you make in the article.
    The points that you make in the article presumably stand on their own in any event (i.e. the article doesn’t rely on people looking at MSCD to understand the point you are making), so I think the overall impression of removing the citations would be to add to the credibility of the article rather than detract from it.

    • A bunch of citations to MSCD would get pretty tedious! But most of the citations to my stuff are to articles and blog posts; without the citations, the reader wouldn’t otherwise know to consult them.

      I’ll see whether to balance things out a bit I can dredge up some citations to other people’s stuff. But your mention of “evidence” is apposite: I’m currently reading an academic work that seeks to buttress its conjecture by citing a lot of conjecture by others.

      • I think that the citations to your own works for further examples and clarification can be themselves clarified by use of that laundry list of signal words from the Blue Book. I’m sure there’s one or more that serve your purpose without confusing a reader that you’re citing to yourself as authority; although when you’re referring to a blog post that discusses cases and so on, that’s certainly appropriate and you can signal it that way in a work that *requires* excruciating detail in signals.

  3. Ken:

    You might try using see generally as the signal introducing any citation to your own work. It is the gentlest of signals, with the least assertion of “here’s my evidence.”

    But it depends on the kind of writing it is. If it is educational in nature, I’d go with see generally because it is the signal for useful background reading.

    If it is argumentative, then I’d stick with the assertion that my own writing is evidence because of what is in it. That is, it’s not an appeal to my authority, but an appeal to the argument made there. To make that clear, I would use a lot of parentheticals, like “(finding that case law overwhelmingly fails to distinguish between commercially reasonable efforts and reasonable efforts)” or “(applying to the word shall the canon of construction that every word should have only one meaning).”


  4. Interesting comments about distinguishing between citing as evidence and citing as recommended further reading, and clearly distinguishing between the two.

    You don’t say what kind of article you are writing. If it is an article destined for an academic legal journal, then I am not surprised by the reviewer’s comment. Academic lawyers tend to think in terms of being part of “the academy” and place considerable emphasis on citing the work of others working within the field. There tends to be a strong element of “standing on the shoulders of giants”.

    If the article is for a professional journal, then this should be much less of an issue.

    Ken, my impression is that your approach is one of saying, I have thought about these issues a lot and my view is that the right way of doing this is X. I.e. it tends not to be “there is a range of possible best practice (V to Z) including my preferred solution which is X”. Perhaps making this clear in the article would help to place your recommendations in context.

    • The piece is destined for an academic journal, because its starting point is my review of arguments presented in an academic book.

      But that raises a separate issue. People distinguish between academic and professional journals as if they were very different beasts reflecting very different approaches and a very different readership. To my mind, the difference should be simply one of the detail presented. It follows that if a practitioner deals extensively with a particular issue, then that practitioner might well be interested in an “academic” article discussing it.

      And I think you can count on me stating clearly what my preferred solution is!


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