Sometimes editors clutter their prose with pedestrian details that the reader likely already knows or would naturally assume. Rather than informing readers, this wastes their time and saps their attention.
The following are examples of articles belaboring the routine and obvious, at times painfully:
You mean the game pieces can be stored for later use? I'm astonished!
At the end of play, points are tallied up and the pieces can be thrown again or stored in a container for another use.
Comment: Of course the points are tallied up at the end of the game. Of course players can either play again or put the game away "in a container". (If the rules said to ignore the score sheet at the end, then called for players to burn the game pieces or use them to commit ritual suicide, THAT would be worth mentioning in the article.)
Once inside, the pair revealed their true intentions, tied up the guards, and spent over an hour stealing art from the museum's collection, which they loaded into their vehicle.
Comment: The guards probably sensed their visitors' "true intentions" around the time they got tied up, and our readers will make the same inference vicariously. Furthermore, in this modern age most readers will envision art thieves as having a vehicle at the ready. (Had they absconded via public transport, or summoned an Uber, THAT would be worth mentioning in the article.)
Comment: The word quickly is superfluous, because our readers' innate cunning will inform them that controllers generally act with dispatch in such situations. (Had they instead been lackadaisical, THAT would be worth mentioning in the article.)
Comment: The part from "signalling his intention..." on is probably unnecessary, because our readers aren't mentally defective. They will conclude without being told that when Sullenberger said "We can't do it... We're gonna be in the Hudson", he's hinting that (a) he's going to land on the Hudson and (b) he's taking this unconventional step because more orthodox landing sites are out of reach. (Had he instead done it because he wanted a bath, THAT would be worth mentioning in the article.)
He then drove to a hardware store, where he purchased a Universal M1 carbine, two additional ammunition magazines and eight boxes of ammunition, telling the cashier he planned to hunt wild hogs. At a gun shop he purchased four further carbine magazines, six additional boxes of ammunition, and a can of gun cleaning solvent. He then drove to Sears, where he purchased a Sears Model 60 12 gauge semi-automatic shotgun before returning home with his purchases.
Comment: If he'd bought all that stuff and then left it at the store, THAT would be worth mentioning in the article.
The Club of Rome raised considerable public attention with its report Limits to Growth, which has sold 30 million copies in more than 30 translations, making it the best-selling environmental book in world history.
Comment: I think you see where I'm going with this.
He broke through the ceiling into the apartment of the chief jailer—who was out for the evening with his wife—changed into street clothes from the jailer's closet, and walked out the front door to freedom.
Comment: While it's nice to know a busy chief jailer still has time for his spouse, absent mention of a confrontation the reader's common sense will tell him that Mr. and Mrs. Turnkey weren't home. (Had they helped Bundy pick out a tie to go with his new civvies, or had Bundy walked out the door then gone around the corner to turn himself in, THAT would be worth mentioning in the article.)
He witnessed the assailant stab Cox, who fell to the ground, before shooting her and stabbing her againshoot her, then stab her again. The attacker left the scene, but was pursued by an eyewitness who followed himand telephoned police to describe his locationidentified him to police. Armed police officers attended the incident, and arrested a suspect.
Comment: There's a lot to say about this one.
who fell to the ground: Persons stabbed and shot, then stabbed again, usually go down. (Extra points for the ambiguous suggestion that the witness shot and stabbed the victim.)
left the scene: If the shooter/stabber had stuck around, THAT would be worth mentioning in the article.
was pursued by an eyewitness who followed him: That's what pursuers do.
telephoned police to describe his location: Usually people calling for help give the location.
Armed police officers attended the incident: Even in law-abiding, Queensberry-Rules, you-got-me-copper-fair-and-square England, readers will imagine that amongst officers dispatched to the shooting/stabbing of a Member of Parliament, at least some will be armed with more than their charming accents and unfailing courtesy.
and arrested a suspect: That's what happens when an eyewitness points out the gunman. Had police let him off with just a stern talking-to, THAT would be worth mentioning in the article.
On the morning of February 19, an employee went to the roof, where four 1,000-gallon water tanks provided water pumped from the city's supply, to the guest rooms, a kitchen, and a coffee shop downstairs. In one of them, he found Lam's body, floating face up a foot below the water surface. Police responded.
Morgan lunged at his attacker and tackled Muenter to the ground as he fired two rounds into Morgan's groin and thigh. Morgan's butler finished subduing Muenter, beating him senseless with a lump of coal. Morgan quickly summoned a doctor and recovered, returning to work on August 14.
Comment: If financier J.P. Morgan got shot in the groin and didn't summon a doctor, or summoned him other than "quickly", THAT would be worth mentioning in the article. (Kudos to the butler for his skill in wielding the coal.)
The Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistryis a society devoted to the history of alchemy and chemistry. The Society was founded as the Society for the Study of Alchemy and Early Chemistry in 1935.
She sustained eleven stab wounds to the face, neck and abdomen, of which at least five were to the area around the heart... The coroner highlighted that, although passengers reported hearing "a commotion", nobody investigated. A verdict of unlawful killing was returned.
Comment: If the verdict had been suicide, THAT would be worth mentioning in the article.
The opposite of the Principle of Some Astonishment is the Principle of Complete Puzzlement: some details don't belong because, though neither obvious nor even predictable, they're completely irrelevant and will puzzle the reader as to the reason for their inclusion.
In March 2009, Schumer announced his support for same-sex marriage, noting that it "was time". Schumer previously supported civil unions. At a private risotto dinner with gay leaders...
Comment: What does risotto have to do with anything? Would we see Schumer in a different light if paella or pilaf or pancakes had been served instead? To properly understand Schumer's change of heart, shouldn't we know what kind of wine they drank?
The June 18 New Yorker has an article about corn. It's the first in what appears to be a series, no less, discussing the major grains. What about corn? Who knows? Only The New Yorker would have the lofty disdain for its readers to expect them to plow through 22,000 words about corn (warning: only an estimate; the TNR fact checkers are still counting) without giving them the slightest hint why. Here is how it starts (after a short introductory poem):
When the New England farmer and botanist Edward Sturtevant retired, in 1887, as head of the New York Agricultural Experiment Station, in Geneva, he left behind a bulky manuscript that was published in 1919, twenty-one years after his death, as "Sturtevant's Notes on Edible Plants." Dr. Sturtevant, who was also a graduate of the Harvard Medical School, but never practiced medicine, had scoured the world’s botanical literature for mentions of all the plants that human beings were known to have eaten (he did not count tree bark, which in times of famine was often one of them), and had come up with among more than three hundred thousand known plant species, two thousand eight hundred and ninety-seven edibles. (Latter-day scientists believe he may have missed as many more.) But, of all these, only a hundred and fifty or so have ever been widely enough consumed to figure in commerce, and of those a mere handful have been of any real consequence.
Now, there are some facts for you. No doubt every single one of them has been checked. You stand in awe as they tumble toward you, magnificently irrelevant, surrounded by mighty commas, mere numbers swollen into giant phrases ("two thousand eight hundred and ninety-seven"), all finally crashing over you with the bravura announcement that nothing you have just read is "of any real consequence." How true this is! From the end of the paragraph, you gaze back on the receding vistas of inconsequence, as far as the eye can see. Even supposing we would like a bit more information about corn, and even supposing we might be relieved to know how many other plants, edible and otherwise, are not going to be discussed in this article, why are we being told about a man whose count apparently was off by half? Even supposing we need to know about Dr. Sturtevant’s book, when it was published, and when the good doctor died, why do we need to know when he retired? Even—stretching it—supposing that we need to know that this gentleman "was also a graduate of the Harvard Medical School," why, oh why, do we have to learn that he "never practiced medicine"? As for the business about tree bark, that has just got to be conscious self-parody.