It seems that implicit biases are all around us and are inescapable: they appear even in the language we use in our writing. A study  (“The sex of researchers affects the language of research papers.” ) discussed in the Science and Technology section of the January 9, 2020 edition of The Economist reveals that research papers written by females are not as self-promoting as those written by males.

Examining the language used in more than 100,000 abstracts and titles, Marc Lerchenmueller and Olav Sorenson, affiliated with the Yale Business School and Anupam Jana of the Harvard Medical School found that those papers authored by males used the term “novel”  59.2% more often than those authored by females. However, the word “promising” was used 72.3% more often by  male authors. Further, the researchers determined that “… self-promotion was associated with a greater number of subsequent citations. And both effects were bigger in prestigious journals. “ (Id.)

A different research study found that men are more likely to cite themselves than will women and thus engage in more self-promotion or self-puffery. (Id.)

At the same time, another study found that women’s research economic papers are subject to more scrutiny and thus more re-writing than were men’s.  (Id.)

This article got me thinking about whether male lawyers indeed use different and more positive assertive language in their briefs to the court and to a mediator. Do briefs written by male lawyers contain more puffery or promotion on behalf of their clients.  Are such briefs more assertive in tone, taking a more aggressive posture that their client is in the right and the other party is the one who erred? And in contra distinction, are briefs written by female lawyers less assertive, less promoting of their clients, and containing less puffery.

This is a difference I have never tried to notice. I usually read for content, not the language used. But, in my upcoming mediations, I may well pay more attention to see if the language used is, indeed, different. I would not be much surprised to find that it is. I do not see much of a difference in writing a well-researched paper for science and a well-researched legal brief. Both are espousing a particular position. The difference is how assertive will be the author. And, according to the above studies, the sex of the author has a lot to do with it.

… Just something to think about.


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