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Shortcut to Persuasive Writing: Follow Hemingway

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on April 28, 2017 6:57 AM

There is a shortcut to persuasive writing, and it's been around for 100 years.

It's like we got lost along the way, retreading the same old path of legal writing. Heretofore's and therefore's later, many lawyers still don't get it. Perhaps we are too proud to admit that we need editing.

We should take a page from Ernest Hemingway, one of the most influential writers of the past century. He was not a lawyer -- which may be one of the reasons he was a great writer -- but he was a master of concise and simple prose, which is the key.

Be Concise

That should be enough said, but we are lawyers after all. So here are some points from Bryan Garner, a law professor and writer, about the many ways that attorneys overwrite:

  • "Overheated, emotion-laden invective"
  • "Regurgitations of meaningless form-book verbiage"
  • "Filibustering boilerplate that amounts to congestive throat-clearing"

For an effective motion, Garner says an issue statement should take no more than 75 words. The introduction should be straightforward.

"State the problem to be resolved," he says. "Carry through in the middle. Then put your prayer at the end."

Be Simple

Every professor, lawyer, or judge who has written a legal brief has some insight into legal writing. Daniel R. Schramm, a Missouri practitioner, has a few.

In his memorandum on writing a persuasive motion for summary judgment, he urges simple writing. Eliminate word burps like, "clearly," "obviously," "plainly," "patently," "absurd," "ridiculous," and other legal jargon.

"Try to use short and simple sentences," he says. "Resist the temptation to string together related concepts with conjunctions and clauses."

Ultimately, good writing is based on understanding parts of speech, rules of grammar, spelling, and other conventions. Fortunately, there are shortcuts, like lessons from Hemingway and the Hemingway Editor.

And yes, even Hemingway had an editor.

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