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Classic, Plain-Language Writing Tips

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

The plain language movement in legal writing started in the 1970s, about the time Plymouth rolled out the hemi-powered Barracuda.

And you know what they say about old cars? Some say they don't make them like they used to. Others say they are just old.

In any case, there is something to be said about classic cars and basic writing. When practicing law, it's crucial to continually refine the readability of your legal writing.

Basics, Classics

First, let's make the analogy clear. We're talking about a muscle car in pristine condition and the fundamental rules of grammar.

It's important because critics may say that old-school writing, like an old car, is a non-starter. "This is the internet age, when lawyers tech-talk and cite Wikipedia," they blah, blah, blah.

Could it be those lawyers just don't want to go back to school and study parts of speech, sentence construction, conjugation, punctuation, etc.? After all, there's an app for that these days.

But it's better to write with fundamentals in mind than to let a mindless program -- or even a robot -- do the thinking for you. Be a Brendan Kenny, a plain language advocate who writes for Lawyerist. 

I Do

Like air and gas in a V8, it only takes two things to make a sentence roar: a subject and a verb. Everything else may be important, but it starts with the basic parts of speech.

So if you get lost in the translation from lawyer-speak to plain English, maybe you just have too many words. "Keep it simple, stupid," she said.

Of course, there are plenty of other pieces to sentence construction, such as adverbs, adjectives and phrases of every kind. Because this is a blog, however, here are some plain-language short-cuts:

  • Reduce sentence length.
  • Use active voice rather than passive voice.
  • Eliminate legal language when a simple word will do.

The '71Cuda, by the way, was very underrated in its day. However, one recently sold for $3.5 million.

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