There are different types of legal writing -demand letters, opinion letters, research memos, motions, briefs, judicial opinions, contracts, statutes, and ordinances, to name just a few. Although each type presents a unique challenge, they all have some things in common. That is, certain principles of good writing apply to the whole gamut. These 20 principles may be divided into three subparts:
- Framing Your Thoughts
- Phrasing Your Sentences
- Choosing Your Words
Whatever the document, you’ll be doing these things. The 20 tips that follow should kelp you do them better.
Framing Your Thoughts
1) Have something to say -and think it through.
2) For maximal efficiency, plan your writing projects. Try nonlinear outlining.
3) Order your material in a logical sequence. Use chronology when presenting facts. Keep related material together.
4) Divide the document into sections, and divide sections into smaller parts as needed. Use informative headings for the sections and subsections.
Phrasing Your Sentences
5) Omit needless words.
6) Keep your average sentence length to about 20 words.
7) Keep the subject, the verb, and the object together -toward the beginning of the sentence.
8) Prefer the active voice over the passive.
9) Use parallel phrasing for parallel ideas.
10) Avoid multiple negatives.
11) End sentences emphatically.
Choosing Your Words
12) Learn to detest simplifiable jargon.
13) Use strong, precise verbs. Minimize is, are, was, and were.
14) Turn -ion words into verbs when you can.
15) Simplify wordy phrases. Watch out for of (e.g. use "enough" instead of “an adequate number of").
16) Avoid doublets and triplets (e.g. due and payable, last will and testament)
17) Refer to people and companies by name.
18) Don’t habitually use parenthetical shorthand names. Use them only when you really need them.
19) Shun newfangled acronyms.
20) Make everything you write speakable.
Bryan A. Gardner, Legal Writing in Plain English, University of Chicado Press, Chicago, 2001