Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Some Writing Tips from David G. Post

David Post has some writing tips for legal writers here.  His general principles are:

  • 1. Good prose is like a windowpane.
  • 2. Impersonate your reader.
  • 3. Your language becomes clear and strong not when you can no longer add, but when you can no longer take away.  [I really like this one.]
  • 4. Read the cases. Read more of them. Read the ones you have read over again. Repeat. [excellent advice]
  • 5. You will not learn to write well by talking – to me, or to anyone else – about writing; you will learn to write well by writing.
  • 6. Good legal writing is writing. A good paper or article provides an answer to a question (or related questions), and persuades the reader that the answer(s) are the best ones available. It is not a “book report.”
  • 7. Give yourself time to revise, and to revise again.
  • 8. There is, unfortunately, no such thing as an “A for Effort” when it comes to written work.
  • 9. Everything you put on the page matters.

His rules: 

  • 1. Before you submit anything to me – an outline, a draft, whatever – read it over, from start to finish, in one sitting, as if you were the person for whom it was written.  [This is also one of my central rules.]
  • 2. When you come to speak to me about your project, bring something in writing (or, if possible, email it to me in advance).
  • 3. Read your work aloud [This is also one of my central rules.]
  • 4. Write your Introduction LAST.
  • 5. Quote first; explain later.
  • 6. Use topic sentences.
  • 7. Do not thump on the table.
  • 8. Eliminate the passive voice from your papers.
  • 9. Avoid unnecessary introductory and transition words.
  • 10. Watch out for “as explained below” and “as explained above.”
  • 11. Do not use “since” when you mean “because.”
  • 12. Be wary of “because”; it often reflects a failure of organization.
  • 13. Use parallel structure.
  • 14. If you’re saying the same thing, or referring to the same thing, use the same words.

For the details on the above, go to Post's webpage.

(Scott Fruehwald)


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