Take the 2-minute tour ×
Writers Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for authors, editors, reviewers, professional writers, and aspiring writers. It's 100% free, no registration required.

As Wikipedia and at least one answer on this site suggest, the name stylometry encompasses certain techniques to determine authorship of text. Although stylometry itself appears to require a certain amount of expertise, I conjecture that an average reader of a piece of text could make an unscientific guess as to the text's author if the reader were familiar with other texts known to have the same author. I refer here not only to "famous" texts ("that sounds like Shakespeare") but also to much more mundane texts such as e-mail correspondence.

Are there techniques known to enable an author to incorporate ideas of his or her choice in an English-language text while disguising the authorship of the text? If so, what techniques exist? Do these techniques work with the casual reader, the more technical processes of stylometry, or both?

Edit:

After posting this question, I found an interesting academic paper on this exact subject. The paper does not indicate that any particular method of attack was used, as the participants in the study were not linguists. I am more interested in what the authors call obfuscation attacks than imitation attacks, but answers pertaining to either are fine.

share|improve this question

migrated from english.stackexchange.com Nov 25 '11 at 9:06

This question came from our site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts.

    
why would you want to do this? –  Lauren Ipsum Nov 26 '11 at 2:14
1  
@LaurenIpsum Mostly, at this time, I'm just curious. As an example, though, some businesses have "anonymous" methods of expressing concerns to upper management. A concern might be that such concerns are not truly anonymous, especially in smaller companies. Another would be for, say, a college course evaluation. There are numerous other applications, as I'm sure you could imagine. –  Andrew Nov 26 '11 at 2:57
add comment

2 Answers

Perhaps the easiest way to obfuscate your writing style is to imitate someone else's writing style. Some people have a chameleon-like knack for imitating or even parodying the styles of different authors; they may or may not consciously employ any particular techniques to do so, but simply have a feel for the rhythm of the prose and an awareness of the characteristic word choices that the object of their emulation employs.

Depending on the skill of the emulating author, the obfuscated/imitative text they produce may or may not stand up to the stylometric analyses mentioned in Brennan & Greenstadt's paper.

However, all of the analysis tools used by B&G are freely available. Someone sufficiently determined to obfuscate their own writing could subject their prose to the same analyses performed by B&G, and practice changing those tendencies. They would perform the analyses on their successive efforts until they could produce text that was sufficiently obfuscated from the point of view of the analysis tools.

But to answer your questions:

  • The best-known technique for disguising authorship from the casual reader is to be able to convincingly write in someone else's style. (Note that B&G had their test subjects attempt obfuscation before imitation to prevent their obfuscation efforts from simply being imitations!)
  • If you think authorship may, for some reason, be subjected to a more rigorous analysis, having an awareness of the stylometric techniques that might be employed may give you a head start in obfuscating authorship.
share|improve this answer
add comment

I recently heard someone else ask about something similar, but for a different purpose. This person is from England and had written a novel that had become quite popular in the UK. However, there were so many terms that are common in England that did not really transfer well for an American audience. As a result, the author hired an American editor to go through the entire book and make recommendations for changes that would Americanize the contents. Thanks to the notes and suggestions from the American editor, this author was able to release the same novel under a different title in the US and found similar success here. I actually read major portions of both books, and the differences were astounding, not only from a dialectic perspective, but also from a stylistic perspective. Having a "foreign" editor helped this author change the style of the writing considerably!

Another method is something I would describe as situational immersion. The author was writing in a different genre using characters complete foreign to the author's experiences. The author lived with the subjects for a year to learn their speech patterns, customs, and cultural influences. Then once the author started writing, the perspective of the main character took on a more personal slant than the author had used before. This was a direct result of writing from experience rather than writing from imagination. Because the author had a wider range of material from which to choose, it ended up changing the style in which the author was accustomed to writing.

The degree to which this can be accomplished really depends on the amount of effort that the author wants to apply. If you have a strong enough reason and justification for it, then you need to be willing to put forth the effort to make it work.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.