Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Legal writing should say who did what

George D. Gopen, emeritus professor of the Practice of Rhetoric at Duke, recently advised legal writers Gopenthat they must “control agency” in their writing: that is, their prose should usually identify an actor. Lawyers who choose abstract nouns and the passive voice produce vague prose that simply doesn’t explain who did what. It’s not enough to write sentences that only some readers may understand with effort. Instead, the prose should be “highly likely to lead most readers to perceive your thought.” See Gopen’s companion articles in the winter and spring 2013 issues of Litigation for some good examples that illustrate his point.

Gopen is the 2011 recipient of the Legal Writing Institute’s Golden Pen Award for his contributions to the field of legal writing.


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