Effective Legal Writing

Basic Principles of Legal Writing

  1. Use correct grammar and avoid misplaced modifiers. Adjectives, adverbs, or modifying phrases must accompany, or go as close as possible to, the thing they are modifying. If they do not, a misplaced modifier occurs.
  2. If one will do, do not use two words. Get to the point. Your message should have no unnecessary words for the same reason.
  3. Use the active voice as opposed to the passive voice. The active voice makes the subject do the action and tells directly who did it; the passive voice torments the fact.
  4. Use specific words as opposed to general words. Specific words call up pictures in your message and remove vagueness.
  5. Use parallel construction. Express items of the same importance in the same grammatical form: that is, if you begin a series with a noun, use nouns throughout the series; do the same with other parts of speech.
  6. Make statements reader centered. A reader centred, as opposed to a writer centred, message emphasizes the reader, or at least achieves a good balance.
  7. Put statements in positive form. This principle conveys tact and professionalism. When used correctly, it enables you to convert a negative message into a positive one or frame a negative or bad news message in positive terms. One of the easiest ways to achieve this is to avoid negative words such as not and cannot, and other accusatory and antagonizing words.

Getting ready to write

  1. Identify the reason for writing.
  2. Jot down the main points you wish to make.
  3. Write a draft. Check your own writing.
  4. Revise, revise, revise.
  5. Polish and proofread for correct grammar, word usage, spelling and punctuation.