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Lawyers make money being persuasive and concise writing allows you to cover more points than if you must omit some because your primary issue has filled the available pages. So remember, the most effective letter doesn’t bury the point in verbiage. To cut the verbiage from your writing, make sure every word counts and sentence construction is terse. Here are some suggestions, as reported in a recent article Even Judges Appreciate Shorter Briefs via attorneyatwork.com.
Reconsider Adjectives and Adverbs: “Clearly” may be the most abused word in legal writing. Often the point being made is not clear at all. If you have made your point clearly, it will stand on its own merit. Word-search for “very” in your writing, too. Frequently, “very” adds nothing, and the sentence is more dramatic without that word: “The driveway was very long” versus “The driveway was long.” Specificity improves credibility. The reader makes the judgment call, rather than relying on the writer’s conclusion: “The driveway was 50 yards long.” Remove instances of “very” that clutter your writing.
Beware the Passive Voice: You have probably read you should not write in the passive voice, but perhaps you have not understood why. Passive sentences can muddle the message by not disclosing the entity that performed the action: “The issue was considered closed.” Or the actor may be disclosed, but the sentence is long and weak: “The issue was considered closed by the condominium board.” Subject-verb-object is the word order of a direct sentence. Direct sentences are shorter and more to the point: “The condominium board closed discussion on the issue.” Active voice is almost always the advocate’s better choice.
Avoid Redundancy: Yes, you are making an important point. So phrase it well the first time. Repetition does not increase the persuasiveness of your writing. On the contrary, it induces the reader to skim, searching for relevance and perhaps missing the most important argument hidden among the verbiage.
Got Editing Software? Maybe you would like some editing help. Or perhaps you are already an excellent writer, but a little backup or confirmation seems like a good idea. Editing software can be a sound investment, but still requires human review, not blind acceptance of the suggested change.
Don’t Forget: Spell-check is already part of your word processing software, and you should routinely use it before transmitting documents. This function also performs some basic grammar checks. WordPerfect’s Grammatik seems to do a better job of this than Word’s Spelling & Grammar review. When I tested it, Grammatik picked up a missing lead quotation mark, but Spelling & Grammar did not.
Heed the Experts: Versions of the quote “If I had more time, I would have made it shorter” are variously attributed to many, including Blaise Pascal, T.S. Eliot and as far back as Marcus Cicero. I guess they were on to something. Take the time to shorten your work to maximize advocacy success.