Respect for your Readers

Posted: May 23rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Mission Critical Stuff, Musings on Writing (and Life) | Tags: | No Comments »

Before your readers will listen to you, they need to know that you have listened to them and that you understand their challenges and their needs. Respect for our readers is the basis for all strong writing techniques.

  • Respect your readers’ time. Be merciful. Don’t take up any more of your readers’ time than necessary. Answer the question, argue the point or lay out the deal as as concisely as possible.
  • Respect your readers’ intelligence. Your readers are highly trained and intelligent, so they expect thoughtful, deep analysis. While you must be brief, it is more important to be thorough. Your readers will give you their time if you reward their effort with deep knowledge.
  • Make it as easy as possible for your readers. Don’t make your readers work any harder than necessary to understand your paper. Write in the language they already know and love–plain English.
  • Satisfy your readers’ curiosity. Your readers are deeply curious. But they are more curious about you as a writer than they are about your topic. Do you know your subject? Are you masterful or just competent? Are you reasonable and worth working with? Use your writing to convey who you are as a lawyer. Let your tone suggest confidence and authority.
  • Focus your readers. Given the competition for your readers’ time, you must focus your readers’ attention for them by leading from the top–the key to effective, professional writing and the principle my book focuses on.
  • Give your readers choices. Headings and introductory sentences allow your readers to choose not to read a section to to mark a section for reading later. Give your readers the option to just say no or later.
  • Keep your readers’ eyes moving. Your readers should be able to move seamlessly from the beginning to the end of your paper. Any style that halts that forward momentum destroys your readers’ trust in you as a writer. (The books explains many techniques to keep your readers’ eyes moving forward.)

 



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What is strong legal writing?

Posted: May 23rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Musings on Writing (and Life) | Tags: | No Comments »

So what is strong legal writing? Strong legal writing speaks a modern language–plain English. It respects our readers’ time and intelligence by being concise but thorough. It takes complex ideas and makes them clear. It leads from the top. It builds on the mind’s innate love of pattern and it tells our readers what to do next. The best legal writing earns both the readers’ trust and the right to the readers’ time. Above all, strong writing leads to easy reading.



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Why Legal Writing Matters

Posted: May 23rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Musings on Writing (and Life) | Tags: | No Comments »

Why is legal writing so important? Because legal writing drives deals, molds thought, sets rules and governs relationships. Because our writing represents both our clients and our firm. And because our writing reflects on each of us an advocate and a person. Our writing defines who we are.

In the legal profession, virtually everything we do–our negotiations, our legal arguments, our advice to clients, even our exchanges with¬† colleagues–we now do in writing. So now that all lawyers are essentially in the writing business, the ability to write cleanly and efficiently has become a survival skill. You simply cannot be an effective lawyer today if you cannot write.¬† And poor legal writing does more than harm our own reputations. Poor legal writing legals to poor decision making.

The plague of poor writing infects not just the legal world, but the business world as well. The recent National Commission on Writing reports that American businesses spend as much as $3.1 billion annually to address writing problems in the workforce.

So the least we can do for a world that often questions the value of lawyers is to write in a language that adds value–a language that makes legal thought accessible and that regular folks can understand. Open, readable language promotes justice, order and transparency.

 



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