Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Legal Writing in Plain English

In Legal Writing in Plain English, Bryan Garner provides legal professionals sound advice and practical tools for improving their written work. It teaches legal writers how to organize ideas, create and refine prose, and improve editing skills. In essence, it teaches straight thinking--a skill inseparable from good writing.

The principles and value of plain, clear writing are not limited to the legal profession.
The exercises from Legal Writing in Plain English are organized under fifty principles. Click on the principle to go to its exercise page.
§ 1 Have something to say--and think it through.
§ 2 For maximal efficiency, plan your writing projects. Try nonlinear outlining.
§ 3 Order your material in a logical sequence. Use chronology when presenting facts. Keep related material together.
§ 4 Divide the document into sections, and divide sections into smaller parts as needed. Use informative headings for the sections and subsections.
§ 5 Omit needless words.
§ 6 Keep your average sentence length to about 20 words.
§ 7 Keep the subject, the verb, and the object together--toward the beginning of the sentence.
§ 8 Prefer the active voice over the passive.
§ 9 Use parallel phrasing for parallel ideas.
§ 10 Avoid multiple negatives.
§ 11 End sentences emphatically.
§ 12 Learn to detest simplifiable jargon.
§ 13 Use strong, precise verbs. Minimize is, are, was, and were.
§ 14 Turn -ion words into verbs when you can.
§ 15 Simplify wordy phrases. Watch out for of.
§ 16 Avoid doublets and triplets.
§ 17 Refer to people and companies by name.
§ 18 Don't habitually use parenthetical shorthand names. Use them only when you really need them.
§ 19 Shun newfangled acronyms.
§ 20 Make everything you write speakable.
§ 21 Plan all three parts: the beginning, the middle, and the end.
§ 22 Use the "deep issue" to spill the beans on the first page.
§ 23 Summarize. Don't overparticularize.
§ 24 Introduce each paragraph with a topic sentence.
§ 25 Bridge between paragraphs.
§ 26 Vary the length of your paragraphs, but generally keep them short.
§ 27 Provide signposts along the way.
§ 28 Unclutter the text by moving citations into footnotes.
§ 29 Weave quotations deftly into your narrative.
§ 30 Be forthright in dealing with counterarguments.
§ 31 Draft for an ordinary reader, not for a mythical judge who might someday review the document.
§ 32 Organize provisions in order of descending importance.
§ 33 Minimize definitions. If you have more than just a few, put them in a schedule at the end--not at the beginning.
§ 34 Break down enumerations into parallel provisions. Put every list of subparts at the end of the sentence--never at the beginning or in the middle.
§ 35 Delete every shall.
§ 36 Don't use provisos.
§ 37 Replace and/or wherever it appears.
§ 38 Prefer the singular over the plural.
§ 39 Prefer numerals, not words, to denote amounts. Avoid word-numeral doublets.
§ 40 If you don't understand a form provision--or don't understand why it should be included in your document--try diligently to gain that understanding. If you still can't understand it, cut it.
§ 41 Use a readable typeface.
§ 42 Create ample white space--and use it meaningfully.
§ 43 Highlight ideas with attention-getters such as bullets.
§ 44 Don't use all capitals, and avoid initial capitals.
§ 45 For a long document, make a table of contents.
§ 46 Embrace constructive criticism.
§ 47 Edit yourself systematically.
§ 48 Learn how to find reliable answers to questions of grammar and usage.
§ 49 Habitually gauge your own readerly likes and dislikes, as well as those of other readers.
§ 50 Remember that good writing makes the reader's job easy; bad writing makes it hard.

Click here to download all fifty exercises in a single ASCII text file. © 2001, Bryan A. Garner

These exercises appear in Bryan A. Garner's Legal Writing in Plain English: A Text with Exercises, published by The University of Chicago Press and available at bookstores and on the Web at www.press.uchicago.edu.


  1. Hi Ms. VAnessa,

    Thank you very much for sending such a nice and informative link regarding legal writing. I have downloaded a part of it and trying to read it thoroughly. After completing it I'll come back to you.



  2. Rajeev

    The advioce and guidelines here apply to any writing too

  3. Vanessa

    Thank you very much for your information. It is likely to be what I have to excise. If I keep these principles, I'll be able to to write in good English. At first I got a copy of fifty principles. I'll practise some of them which I can understand and agree to. I think it takes time to get any result.

  4. Hi Ms. Vanessa,

    I apologise for not being able to participate in the blog because of my exams which will continue till the end of May, 2007. In the meantime, I will participate only intermittently. Ma'm I understand the to improve English language, participation is a must. I hope you will understand my problem.




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