Monday, March 3, 2008

Teaching Students About the Importance of Word Counts

One skill that we need to teach our students is to reduce the number of words in their writing without sacrificing the underlying message.
Here's one example.  The U.S. Supreme Court has just ordered additional briefing in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, No. 07-953.  The parties are directed to submit briefing addressing the question of whether the Supreme Court has jurisdiction to hear the appeal in light of 28 U.S.C. §1253, which permits a direct appeal “in any civil action, suit or proceeding required by any Act of Congress to be heard and determined by a district court of three judges.”  The briefs, "not to exceed 3,000 words, are to be filed simultaneously with the Clerk and served upon opposing counsel on or before 2 p.m., Monday, March 10, 2008."  Reply briefs are limited to 2,000 words.
So, with word limits like that, it becomes important for us to teach our students to eliminate phrases such as these:
"It is important to note that . . . "
"It should be noted that . . . "
If it is important, or if it should be noted, it will be do so even without saying that it is important or should be noted.
And in addition to eliminating certain phrases, we should teach our students how to reduce wordy phrases, and use instead plain language alternatives.  For example:
in addition to = and
as well as = and
is required to = must
has a duty to = must
will be permitted to = may
has the power to = can, may
will be able to = can, may
the totality of the facts = the facts
which is required to = required
asked the question of whether = asked
failed to report = omitted
despite the fact that = although
will serve as a warning to = warn
offered testimony in support of her case = testified
brought the concept to articulation = said
at that point in time = then
very unique = unique
on the grounds that = because
in the event that = if
does constitute = is
a number of = several
does not possess = lacks
in the absence of = without
period of time = time
rate of speed = speed
if for any reason whatsoever = if
makes provision for = provides
expressly provides = provides
Mark E. Wojcik, The John Marshall Law School - Chicago

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