Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Legal writing professors use a lot of analogies to help our students hone their skills. For example, sometimes a student who is too verbose on one paper overcorrects and produces choppy prose on the next paper. When they express frustration, I tell them it's like riding a bicycle. The first time you take off the training wheels, you might fall to the right. So then you overcompensate and fall to the left. But eventually you find your balance. Simple analogies like this one seem to help students a lot more than reassuring them that in time they'll find their "voice" as a legal writer; few students really know what that means.
So today I was happily surprised to discover a new analogy to use in class, as I was perusing the winter 2011-2012 edition of the newsletter of the AALS Section on Teaching Methods. The newsletter includes some short essays with teaching tips, all potentially helpful for legal writing professors. The analogy that caught my eye was in Shailini George's essay on Editing: More than Just Icing on the Cake. She compares a student's draft paper to a cake. The cake and the paper may be very good, but "readers might not even want to taste their cake if it's not iced perfectly." After all, a cake with a sloppy icing job can be pretty uninviting. But a beautifully iced cake beckons you to dig in. Prose is much the same. A few sloppy mechanical errors catch the eye, and it's not very inviting. But both a cake and prose benefit from having the time to cool off, and only then having the finishing touches put on. Shailini's essay includes good advice on to use the analogy. Now I'm going to have to bake some cakes and take some photos for new PowerPoint slides.