The Three Essential Rules for Writing.

All my suggestions for powerful writing boil down to three guiding principles. First, use plain English. Second, lead from the top. Third, tell your reader what to do next. These principles apply not only to briefs and memos, but to the many mediums in which modern lawyers work—including letters, email, blogs, newsletters and even PowerPoint. Let’s talk about each principle.

Use plain English.

We’ve all heard the common admonition to “use plain English.” Our clients speak a modern language and we should too. So if you would not use a word or phrase when speaking with a colleague, don’t use it in your writing. Speak human.

Lead from the top.

The principle of leading from the top is the single most effective tool for strong writing and the essential rule for structuring any paper. If you open your paper by telling your reader what is important, they will look for that information as they read. When you present that information later, the reader will seize on it and it will click quickly, like a puzzle piece snapping into a space that you have already prepared for it.

And the principle of leading from the top is like a fractal because it applies on large and small scales. Lead a paper with your conclusion. Lead a section with a substantive heading. Lead a paragraph with a summary sentence. Lead an email with a strong subject line. Lead the message itself with a summary sentence. Leading from the top is the key to tight, logical writing and the focus of my book.

Tell your reader what to do next.

Sane people don’t read briefs, contracts and business letters for pleasure. They read them because they are being paid to read them or because they have a problem and need to read them. What do they want? They want to know what to do next and your job is to tell them. What is the client’s problem and what should be their next steps? What are you asking the court to do?  What do you want your reader to do after reading your e-mail or your letter? Use your writing to make things happen in the real world.

(By the way, my book covers these principles and others in much more detail.)

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