Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Three Best Books About Writing -- Are They On Your Shelf?

We're happy to present a guest blog post from Joseph Bazan of the Minnesota School of Business.


Recently, a colleague noticed that I am a member of the Leal Writing Institute (LWI).  Like many members of LWI, I have a tag in my email signature proudly displaying my membership.  My colleague asked me for recommendations about writing texts to help him improve his legal drafting in his law practice.  I had some trouble trying to narrow down my recommendations to a few titles.  I decided to ask the members of LWI for their recommendations.

I asked the members of LWI to send me a short list of their recommendations.  My original question was asked this way:  “If you could keep only three writing books and had to dispose of the rest, which three would you keep?”

I received over 60 recommendations, but only 14 titles were recommended more than once.  I present the 14 most popular writing books as nominated by the members of LWI followed by an alphabetical list of all of the other books that received recommendations.  Some of these books should certainly be of use to any legal student or practitioner.

(Many of the recommended titles listed below, along with yet more resources, are annotated in an article in the Fall 2008 issue of the Journal of the Association of Legal Writing Directors by Carrie W. Teitcher entitled “Legal Writing Beyond Memos and Briefs:  An Annotated Bibliography.”)

The Top Ten Fourteen

  1. The Elements of Style (William Strunk & E.B. White)
  2. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (Anne Lamott)
  3. [Tie] The Redbook: A Manual on Legal Style (Bryan A. Garner)
  4. Plain English for Lawyers (Richard C. Wydick)
  5. [Tie] Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace (alt.: Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace) (Joseph M. Williams)
  6. Legal Writing: Getting it Right and Getting It Written (Mary Barnard Ray & Jill J. Ramsfield)
  7. Just Writing: Grammar, Punctuation, and Style for the Legal Writer (Anne Enquist & Laurel Currie Oates)
  8. Thinking Like a Writer: A Lawyer’s Guide to Effective Writing and Editing (Stephen V. Armstrong & Timothy P. Terrell)
  9. [Tie] A Practical Guide to Appellate Advocacy (Mary Beth Beazley)
  10. [Tie] The Chicago Manual of Style
  11. Words into Type (Marjorie E. Skillin & Robert Malcolm Gay)e]
  12. [Tie] The Little Book on Legal Writing (Alan L. Dworsky)
  13. [Tie] Legal Writing and Analysis (Linda Holdeman Edwards)
  14. [Tie] Any good unabridged dictionary

The Others In Alphabetical Order

  • Advanced Legal Writing: Theories and Strategies in Persuasive Writing (Michael R. Smith)

  • ALWD Citation Manual: A Professional System of Citation

  • Aspen Handbook for Legal Writers:  A Practical Reference (Deborah E. Bouchoux)

  • Black’s Legal Dictionary (Bryan A. Garner, Ed.)

  • The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation

  • The Craft of Argument (Joseph M. Williams & Gregory G. Colomb)

  • A Dictionary of Contemporary American Usage (Bergen Evans & Cornelia Evans)

  • A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage (Oxford Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage) (Bryan A. Garner)

  • Any good dictionary

  • Any general dictionary of usage

  • Expectations:  Teaching Writing from the Reader’s Perspective (George Gopen)

  • Expert Legal Writing (Terri LeClercq & Thomas R. Phillips)

  • Fowler’s Modern English Usage (Fowler’s 2d ed. or Burchfield’s revision)

  • Golden Notebook (Doris Lessing)


  • Hodges’ Harbrace Handbook (AKA The Writer’s Harbrace Handbook, 3d) (Cheryl Glenn & Loretta Gay)

  • How to Write Plain English: A Book for Lawyers and Consumers (Rudolf Flesch)

  • Interactive Citation Workbook for the Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation (Tracy McGaugh)

  • The Language of the Law (David Mellinkoff)

  • Any good law dictionary

  • A Lawyer Writes: A Practical Guide to Legal Analysis (Christine Coughlin, Joan Malmud, & Sandy Patrick)

  • The Lawyer’s Guide to Writing Well (Tom Goldstein & Jethro K. Lieberman)

  • Legal Reasoning And Legal Writing: Structure, Strategy, And Style (Richard K. Neumann, Jr.)

  • The Legal Writing Handbook: Analysis, Research and Writing (Laurel Currie Oates & Anne Enquist)

  • Legal Writing in Plain English:  A Text with Exercises (Bryan A. Garner)

  • Lifting the Fog of Legalese: Essays on Plain Language (Joseph Kimble)

  • Logic for Lawyers: A Guide to Clear Legal Thinking (Hon. Ruggero J. Aldisert)

  • Merriam Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage

  • Metaphors We Live By (George Lakoff & Mark Johnson)

  • Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications

  • “my dad’s old dictionary, copyright 1937”

  • The New Oxford American Dictionary

  • On Writing (Stephen King)

  • Pleasing the Court: Writing Ethical and Effective Briefs (Judith D. Fischer)

  • Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them (Francine Prose)

  • The Rhetoric of Economics (Rhetoric of the Human Sciences) (Deirdre N. McCloskey)

  • Any general thesaurus

  • The Transitive Vampire: A Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager and the Doomed (Karen Elizabeth Gordon)

  • The Use and Abuse of the English Language (Robert Graves & Alan Hodge)



  • The Winning Brief: 100 Tips for Persuasive Briefing in Trial and Appellate Courts (Bryan A. Garner)

  • Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English (Patricia T. O’Connor)

  • The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers (Christopher Vogler)

  • A Writer’s Reference with Help for Writing in the Disciplines (Diana Hacker)

  • Writing and Analysis in the Law (University Casebook) (Helene S. Shapo, Marilyn Walter & Elizabeth Fajans)

  • Writing to Learn (William K. Zinsser)

  • Writing to Win: The Legal Writer (Steven D. Stark)

Extras  (Books that received votes beyond the three votes allowed)

  • The Indexed and Annotated K. K. DuVivier Scrivener Articles currently found here:

  • Plain English for Lawyers, Wydick

  • Pleasing the Court: Writing Ethical and Effective Briefs, Fischer

  • A Writer’s Reference with Help for Writing in the Disciplines, Hacker

  • Writing and Analysis in the Law, Shapo, Walter & Fajans

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