Weasel Words and Grammar Gaffes: They’re Weakening Your Legal Writing

Posted on 09-16-2017 by
Tags: legal writing , words , grammar , writing

writing edit

Legal writing disaster: Making a mess with weasel words and grammar gaffes. 


Weasel words and grammar gaffes kill precision and authority, which are two pillars of good legal writing. If you want to write with precision and authority, you have to put your words and your grammar under a microscope.

Soft-Sounding Briefs Start with Soft-Sounding Words

How do you know if you’re using a weasel word or hedging your language?  The Claims Journal has this helpful list, and to this list, you can add the following words:

  • It seems- As in, “It seems our meeting was moved to tomorrow.” If the meeting was moved, then say so.
  • Apparently- Don’t say “My schedule is apparently open next week.” If your schedule is open, it’s open. Using “apparently” or “it looks like” clutters up your writing and dilutes your message.
  • Relatively- This word weakens a strong stance. Don’t say “It’s a relatively hot day.” Say “It’s a hot day.” “Relatively” is a hedge word, and it takes away any confidence in what you’re saying.
  • To a Certain Degree- Putting unspecified qualifiers on your statements says that you don’t fully back them up. If there are qualifications, include them. If not, then leave this phrase out.
  • Most- This is too vague. Don’t say “Most people agree.” Give specifics like "90%" or "3 out of 4." 

Weak Grammar: The Mark of Weak Lawyering?

Weasel words and hedging aren’t the sole causes of weak writing. Grammar gaffes must be avoided too. Keep these grammar tips in mind to insure strong, confident writing.

  • The passive voice- Don’t say that the ruling “was made by the judge.” Say that the judge “made the ruling.” Passive voice shifts responsibility and blame by emphasizing the result rather than the responsible party.
  • Don’t be vague- Name what you’re talking about. If you’re writing about your client, use their name. If you’re writing about a person’s activities on a certain day, list them. And please, for goodness’ sake, don’t use words like “things” and “stuff.” Be detailed to make sure you sound informed.
  • Minimizing language- Forbes published an article about minimizing language and how you sabotage yourself when you use it. Using words like “just” or “only” downplays both you and the importance of your message. If you want your writing to be strong, avoid using this kind of language.
  • Nominalizations- A nominalization occurs when a verb is turned into a noun. Don’t say that you “reached a decision.” Say that you “decided.” When you say that you “decided,” you’re owning the action that you took. Just like passive voice, nominalizations can shift responsibility and blame. They’re also much wordier, and you want to be clear and concise in your writing.
  • Bland Adverbs- Avoid using bland or overused adverbs like “very,” “really,” or “extremely.” They don’t add to your writing, and can be replaced with a better adjective. Don’t say that someone is “really sad,” say that they’re “devastated.” Instead of saying that something is “very large,” describe it as “enormous.”

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