Avoid stuffy language and use familiar words instead.

Posted: January 24th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Editing, Plain English: Tips | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Avoid stuffy, academic language. Use familiar, concrete words instead. Here are some plain English alternatives to some common stuffy phrases.

In all likelihood likely, probably
Let me offer an explanation of the cause. Let me explain why.
statement for professional services bill
Enclosed please find. . . . I have enclosed . . . .
presently soon, now
Pursuant to our conversation . . . . As we discussed . . . .
Per your request . . . . As you asked . . . .
I am of the mind that . . . . EEEEEEK! (There is no cure – just delete it.)
Signage sign
Of particular import to this issue . . . . In particular,
He was aware that . . . . He knew that . . . .
He shall have the ability to . . . . He can . . . .

So how stuffy are your words?


P.S. My book, The Lawyer’s Essential Guide to Writing: Proven Tools and Techniques has hardly any stuffy words.

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One Comment on “Avoid stuffy language and use familiar words instead.”

  1. 1 How to understand and develop your business brand tone said at 5:33 pm on September 9th, 2015:

    […] threw up an excellent post from the blog ‘A lawyer’s guide to writing’, titled ‘Avoid stuffy language and use real words instead’.) Well done Marie […]

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Step Three of Deep Editing: Synthesize

Posted: June 20th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Editing | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

In my recent posts, I talked about the first two steps of deep editing. First, you must clean up your sentences. Second, you must edit for structure.  Now, let’s talk about the final step—synthesis.

Step Back. Close Your Eyes. Breath Deeply. Open your New Eyes.

You cannot appreciate a Monet or a Chuck Close with your nose two inches from the canvas. You must walk to the other side of the room and get some distance to appreciate the whole painting. So, too, you must get distance on your writing once you are through the more mechanical sentence-level and structural edits. Put your paper down. Think. What are your one, two or three key points? Do they sing through? Is the “big picture” view of the research clear? Is the paper balanced? Or are you spending too much time on minor points and, therefore, sounding defensive? What facts work? Are you playing to those strengths? Are you arguing points that are not essential to winning your case and effectively increasing your burden of proof? Are you arguing too many points so that the paper reads like an issue-spotting law-school exam rather than a piece of advocacy for a client?

If your paper is a research memorandum, have you culled the research down? If you include too much information, your reader may find that it is easier to read the research file itself, rather than wade through your paper.

Finally, are you being intellectually honest about the weaknesses of your case? Is the tone confident and integral?

Ask a Colleague for Comments.

You have very smart friends. They are not only smart, they will also have a fresh perspective on your work. So ask a friend—preferably someone slightly senior—to review your paper. You’ll be amazed at how insightful the comments will be. Friends don’t let friends go unedited. And offer to return the favor. Editing the work of others will make you a better writer.

Sleep on It.

Take a long break—and get a good night’s sleep—before this final review. Writing ferments as it ages, so the more time you leave between writing and editing, the better your editing will be. Why? Because when you finish writing, you are still too close to your written words to judge them objectively. You need to put time between you and your writing, so that time can break your love affair with your own words. For this final edit, you must take off your writer’s hat and read as if you were a reader seeing your words for the first time. Only time will give you this objectivity. You will be amazed at your insight if you approach your deep editing from a healthy distance.


And that’s it. The three essential steps for deep editing. First, clean up your sentences. Second, edit for structure. Third, step back, play lawyer and make it sing.

I hope you found this series helpful!



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Step Two of Deep Editing: Edit for Structure

Posted: June 14th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Editing | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

As we discussed in an earlier post, the first step of deep editing is sentence-level editing. In sentence-level editing, you should say each sentence aloud to cure clutter and grammatical errors and to edit for plain English. Now, let’s move on to the second step of deep editing—structural editing.

Structural Editing

The craft of legal writing becomes an art through the masterful use of structure and structural editing is your most important and most challenging task. Remember the Three Essential Rules for Writing? Of these three rules, leading from the top is perhaps the most important rule. It is also the essential rule for structural editing.

First, Focus on the “Opening.”

Since the opening is the most important part of any paper, begin your structural edit by focusing on the opening.

  • Does the paper “open” in the first page and a half? Or, better yet, the first paragraph?
  •  Does it begin by explaining the background story in two or three sentences? (Who are the players? How do they know each other? What went wrong?)
  • Is the issue obvious from that background story? If not, have you spelled out the issue separately?
  • Does the paper lead with a strong, confident conclusion? Have you stated that conclusion in plain English? Is there a separate heading that screams Conclusion or Answer so that the reader can find the conclusion easily?
  • If the reader were to read only the opening, would the reader understand the paper?

Second,Work your Headings.

Next, pull your headings onto a single page to be sure that your legal argument flows logically and leads from the top. Remember that headings represent a higher layer of writing than the body of your paper, so you should proof them separately to be sure that they reveal a strong foundation.

  • Does the paper lead with the most important arguments?
  • Are the main points highlighted with Roman numerals or primary headings?
  • Are subsidiary points identified by indented subheadings?
  • Does each heading lead logically into the next heading?
  • Are headings correctly numbered?
  • Do the headings run from general to specific?
  • Do the headings talk about people and events, rather than abstract legal theory?

Third, Review the “Body” of the Paper:

Next, turn to the body of the paper—the Analysis or the Argument. Again, use your outline, as captured in your headings, as the master document for proofing and fine-tuning the structure of your paper. If your outline is perfect, then the structural foundations of your paper are also sound.

  • Does the Analysis or Argument support the conclusion?
  • Does each section begin with an opening paragraph or sentence that summarizes the conclusion about that section in one sentence?
  • Does each paragraph relate to its heading? (If not, create new headings.)
  • Does each paragraph deal with only one topic? (If not, split the paragraphs.)
  • Does each paragraph begin with a plain-English lead sentence that summarizes the paragraph?
  • Does every sentence within that paragraph support that topic sentence?
  • Does each sentence say something new? (Although the body of the paper must repeat information in the opening, once you are in the body of your paper, each sentence must say something new. Repetition slows the reader’s movement through the paper. Each sentence must add value and push the argument along.)
  • Does the paper use signal phrases, such as for example, by contrast, similarly, again, or in particular to tell the reader the weight of a sentence? (But be careful to avoid beginning every sentence with a signal phrase or your sentences will sound formulaic.)
  • Do the paragraphs and sentences flow from general to specific?
  • Does the discussion of the case law clarify the “big picture” view of the research? Does it explain the weight of authority? The trends in the case law? The number of cases that address the issue?
  • Does the paper discuss the facts and result of the cases?

And Finally …

Finally, have you made recommendations and told your reader what to do next?


Now we have talked about the first two steps of deep editing—sentence-level editing and structural editing. Next, we’ll talk about the final and funnest step of all. Synthesis! I can hardly wait! Stay tuned ….


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The First Step of Deep Editing: Cleaning Up Sentences

Posted: June 13th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Editing | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

Rewriting ripens what you’ve written.

—Duane Alan Hahn

Proofreading and editing are different skills. Proofreading is the tedious, scientific task of making your paper error free. I’ve posted earlier about proofreading, including Eight Steps for Proofreading.

But let’s talk now about the art of editing. Deep editing is part of the art of writing. It is the kind of editing that a good writing coach might do for you and the kind that so many of us avoid. Deep editing requires a systematic attack on your paper and an objective eye. While you must still keep your writing hat on, you must approach your writing as if you were a reader—or a plastic surgeon. Deep editing is precise, surgical work and it requires a finely tuned aesthetic sense and a good ear.

Block Out Time for Self-Editing

First, carve out  time for rigorous self-editing. Editing is the most important part of writing, so you are cheating yourself if you don’t build in time for editing. Professional writers are neurotic about self-editing, so they always leave time for editing. And editing will always take more time than you might think, so save a generous block of time.

Edit with a Vengeance

Approach your paper as if you were a slightly deranged reader with a knife in hand. Deep editing is driven by substance and it requires you to review for structure, substance, sound, readability, appeal, clarity, and integrity.

Review Your Paper in Print Preview

You cannot edit effectively unless you can see what your work will look like to your reader. Edit at least once in hard copy. If you refuse to print for environmental reasons, then at least review your paper in Print Preview or Full Screen Reading View.

Say Your Sentences Aloud

At this first stage of self-editing, your job is to focus on sentences and to cure clutter and check for plain English. Say each sentence aloud—if only in your head—to edit for plain English and to cure clutter and grammatical errors. If you are smart enough to make it through law school, the grammatical rules of modern English are embedded in your brain and ear. Saying your sentences aloud is the only tool an educated writer needs for effective sentence-level editing.

So read through your paper sentence by sentence and rely on your well-trained and unforgiving ear to weed out clutter and confusion. Click here for more tips on plain English editing.


Once you have finished sentence-level editing, you can begin editing for structure. I’ll post soon about structural editing, so stay tuned!


P. S. My Book contains many more tips on writing.

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