Your Writing Specialist’s Tips for Better Writing
- Keep your reader’s mind in mind at all times.
Even if your intended reader is trained in the law, you probably will be more of an expert on the case law that you are citing. Therefore, you must include sufficient detail. Remembering that your reader does not know as much about a case as you do can be very challenging, and sometimes a piece of information that seems obvious to you will not be so obvious to your reader. Try to place yourself in the position of your reader. Think about whether what you have written would make sense to an individual who has not read first-hand the case that you are describing in your paper.
- Predict or persuade, but don’t punt.
If you have been asked to engage in a predictive writing exercise, then you know that a fact-finder will be responsible for reaching a conclusion on the legal matter that you are researching. Your job is to predict what the fact-finder will conclude, based on the relevant legal rule and the facts of the case. Informing your reader that a particular question will be left to a jury only tells the reader what he or she already knows. Making an educated guess regarding the conclusion that the jury likely will reach is your opportunity to add value to the evaluation of a client’s case.
- Take the leap that your Brief Answer needs.
Feeling as if you are faking confidence can be very unsettling. However, if your Brief Answer supports multiple, contradictory positions, or if your Brief Answer seems to support one position while your Discussion supports a different position, then it will be difficult for your reader to assess how your client’s case fits into the law of the relevant jurisdiction. You’ve probably already heard the advice that you should not turn your Question Presented into a Brief Answer – do not assume what you will need to demonstrate through analysis. Similarly, do not leave your reader hanging with a Brief Answer that is more question than answer.
- Relax the facts.
Do you find yourself reading a set of facts and immediately accepting them at face value? Instead, think about how each party’s behavior could be interpreted from various angles. If you can recognize that an action taken by a party – or an interaction between parties – usually can be interpreted in multiple ways, and if you then can engage in creative interpretation of the facts that you have been given, then you are on your way to demonstrating that even behavior that appears mundane can be complex. (Always remember that you are ethically prohibited from misrepresenting any facts.)
- Remember: There’s always another side.
Sophisticated persuasive writing embraces counter-arguments, instead of shying away from them. Acknowledging the likely attractiveness of a counter-argument and then pointing out why your argument remains the stronger position is an excellent way to take the wind out of your opponent’s sails.
May you have smooth sailing this fall semester!
[This article has been modified by the author; the original version appeared in the New England Law Boston campus newspaper under the title “LRW Tips for Success with Professor S.”]