Sunday, May 31, 2020
Drafting an appellate brief (or any brief) is often a challenging and time-consuming endeavor. Among the best ways to ensure that a brief is of the highest quality is to adhere to the three stages of the writing process.
Specifically, the writing process consists of: (1) the drafting stage; (2) the rewriting stage; and (3) the revision stage. The tips below will help law students and attorneys through each stage of the writing process and, ultimately, maximize the quality of briefs and other legal documents.
I. The Drafting Stage
The purpose of the drafting stage is to put your story, ideas, and arguments on paper. As such, you should write freely and creatively. Do not attempt to produce a perfect or even well-written document. And never attempt to write and edit simultaneously because it will stifle your creativity, divert your attention from the substantive arguments that you want to include in your brief, and slow the writing process.
In so doing, understand that although the first draft may, among other things, lack flow and effective organization, contain grammar and style errors, be redundant, or contain poorly phrased sentences and paragraphs, these problems will be fixed during the rewriting and revision stages.
After you have completed the first draft, take a few hours or a day (if time permits) to reflect on what you have written, and ask another person to read your first draft. You will likely generate new ideas regarding, for example, how to present or refine particular arguments, what facts and arguments to include, and how to organize the brief. Indeed, these and other issues will be the focus of the rewriting stage. As author David Sedaris said, “[y]ou need to do the best that you can do, and then you need to take the best that you can do, and you need to rewrite it, and rewrite it, and rewrite it, and rewrite it.”
II. The Rewriting Stage
The purpose of the rewriting stage is to refine your first draft. During this stage, attorneys should focus on improving the structural and substantive aspects of a brief. This should include, but not necessarily be limited to, the following:
- Ensuring that the brief is organized effectively, which will likely require reordering specific paragraphs or sections of a brief;
- Improving the flow of your brief, which includes making sure that you transition seamlessly when presenting various facts and arguments and use subheadings where necessary to improve the flow and clarity of your arguments;
- Eliminating unnecessary repetition;
- Eliminating irrelevant facts;
- Considering whether you have omitted important facts or legal arguments. For example, you may have failed to address a relevant counterargument, distinguish an unfavorable case, or include a favorable fact; and
- Making sure that your paragraphs begin with a clear topic sentence that focuses on a specific issue and end with sentences that transition effectively to the next paragraph and section.
Importantly, lawyers (and writers generally) often perform several rewrites. And during the rewriting stage, you should print out and read aloud your brief because it will ensure that you discover errors or areas for improvement that you may not have otherwise noticed.
III. The Revision Stage
During the revision stage, you should concentrate on the smaller but equally important details of your brief. Put simply, the revision stage is where you perform a line and copy edit of your brief. This should include, but not necessarily be limited to, the following:
- Making paragraphs and sentences shorter;
- Varying sentence length;
- Eliminating complex or esoteric words, adverbs, and unnecessary adjectives;
- Ensuring that your brief contains no grammatical, stylistic, or spelling errors;
- Including transition words to ensure flow and clarity;
- Eliminating words that convey ambiguous or unintended meanings;
- Reducing the number of quotes;
- Deleting repetitive sentences;
- Eliminating cliché phrases and colloquial language;
- Ensuring that your brief is written in the active voice (for the most part);
- Using the CTRL+F feature to search for overused and unnecessary words; and
- Submitting your document to an online editing service, such as Grammarly.
Additionally, you should perform multiple revisions to ensure that you identify all errors and maximize the persuasive value of your brief.
Finally, you should never combine any of these stages. For example, if you combine the rewriting and revising stages, you will almost certainly fail to identify both large and small-scale problems with your brief and compromise your brief’s persuasive value. Lawyers who adhere to the three stages of the writing process will – and do – produce briefs of the highest quality.