Monthly Archives: October 2012

Clear Writing Is Your Responsibility

This blog has repeatedly reminded readers that it’s never too late to learn to write clearly.  In fact, my eBook, “The Art of Clear Writing,” (available at amazon.com/kindlebooks, but soon to be available in print as well), devotes part of Chapter II to that very proposition.  I point out there that even lawyers with all their education are not always good writers. While it may be surprising to learn that lawyers and judges, with all of their emphasis on the written word, still strive to improve their writing skills, many examples of poor writing on their part can be found.

For example one judge, in writing his decision, clearly demonstrated that he did not understand how to structure a complete sentence, nor did he understand the difference between a comma and a period, or when to use capital letters.  Here’s what he wrote:

“This cause coming on for hearing, on the Motion to Set Aside Default, the Court hearing arguments, finds that this is a very unique case involving issues of first impression concerning the validity of the Will, the nine charities who are asking the default to be set aside, assumed the Personal Representative would be protecting their interest under the Will, this is not the case and in order to protect any interest the nine charities may have under the Will, the default entered against those nine charities only will be set aside, it is therefore Ordered and Adjudged that the Motion to set aside default is hereby Granted.”

This is nothing more than very sloppy writing, to say the least, and is inexcusable when coming from a judge.

In another case involving four plaintiffs and two defendants, missing apostrophes and the incorrect use of the singular “plaintiff” or “defendant” incurred the displeasure of the court in trying to figure out who is being referred to:

“Counsel uses possessives without apostrophes, leaving the reader to guess whether he intends a singular or plural possessive…Such sloppy pleading and briefing are inexcusable as a matter of courtesy as well as because of their impact on defendants’ ability to respond.”

Another court complained that its responsibilities did not “include cryptography,” and still another described a complaint as “gobbledygook” and “gibberish.”

A misplaced comma in yet another case, affected the burden of proof of mental competency.  In this case, an affidavit filed by the Director of Mental Retardation, stated as follows:

“I have reviewed the medical records pertaining to [complaining witness], the complainant in this case, and that the assertion, upon information and belief, of mental incompetency is true.”

Here’s what the court said:

“It may be that the confusion arises from the typographical error of placing a comma before the expression, ‘upon information and belief.’  Had the comma not existed the entire expression, ‘and that the assertion upon information and belief,’ would have referred back to the earlier mentioned accusatory instrument so as to render the affidavit non-hearsay.”

Thus, punctuation, seemingly unimportant and meaningless to some writers, plays a large part in the clear writing arena.  The use of correct punctuation makes writing more understandable.  It helps to provide a smooth flow of words and a clear presentation of information.

Wordiness, needless repetition of an idea, or tautology, is another issue which unfortunately plagues lawyers.  Courts are not hesitant about admonishing attorneys for not being concise.  Briefs should not be prolix, verbose, or full of inaccuracies, misstatements, or contradictions, as a court noted.  Further, in still another case, a court took an attorney to task for writing in “legalese” instead of English, and also condemned the writer for using “grammatically atrocious” wording in an indictment.

Punctuation and wordiness issues are also covered in my eBook.

In the legal profession then, clarity is a benchmark of good writing.  This goal should also apply to non-lawyers as well.  As my blogs have stressed, the ability to write clearly is an important part of the goal of building a skilled work force.  You can vastly improve your chances of finding a job or getting ahead in your job if you are presently employed by learning to write clearly.  Consider this as your personal obligation. You will help yourself as well as the economy.  It’s your turn.

Copyright © 2012.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

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Filed under active voice, clear writing, good diction, history, punctuation, sound sentence structure, tips for good diction, Uncategorized, Writing Improvement

Action Cures Fear; Overcome Your Fear of Writing – Start Writing, Now.

I get many emails every day.  Recently, one of them in particular caught my attention.  It came from Steve Roller, one of the weekly writers at AWAI – American Writers and Artists, Inc., a writing group to which I belong.  The above headline to this blog is actually the mainspring of his message – when you’re confronted by a fear, take action to overcome that fear.  It’s basically the same message imparted by Jeffrey Gitomer, who has written about sales techniques for the last 20 years.  Gitomer has written many sales books.  One of them, “The Little Red Book of Selling,” is not just about selling – it’s also about motivation.  I commend it to your attention.  It’s definitely worth reading.

By the way, many people react to the word “sales” as if it’s a poison pill.  It shouldn’t be a turn off.  Writing is itself a form of sales – you’re selling yourself every time you write.  And the more you write, the better your writing will become because your confidence will increase.

Motivation is the key to all action, and motivation can be found, well, anywhere.  I’m reminded of one of Jeffrey Gitomer’s stories from his book mentioned above.  His favorite story for more than fifty years has been “The Little Engine That Could,” a  classic from 1930.  Do you remember that little children’s book, all about a train trying to make it up a hill?  It finally made it to the top, repeating the timeless phrase to itself, “I think I can, I think I can.”

One of the key points stressed by Mitt Romney in the October 16 Town Hall debate, which he also emphasized on October 3, is that he wants to help small businesses grow because that will lead to an increase in employment. Small businesses employ two-thirds of the work force. You can increase your chances of becoming part of that work force by learning to write clearly.  This skill will help you to become employed or to advance in your job if you are already employed. Whether you want to have your own business or are actively seeking employment in an already established company, you can become part of the skilled work force Romney is talking about by investing in yourself, i.e., learning to write more clearly.

The starting point is to develop confidence in your writing.  That’s the bottom line.  The road to improved writing skills begins with a belief in yourself.  If you have a fear of writing, it can be overcome by attacking that fear head on, just take action by writing more.  I’m reminded of a line from one of legendary songster Johnny Mercer’s tunes, “Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative…”

“I’m not a good writer” is an all too- often heard personal lament.  If you fit into that category, check out my eBook, “The Art of Clear Writing.”  It’s available on amazon.com/kindlebooks.  This eBook emphasizes the development of  confidence in your writing ability.  It will help you learn to write with confidence by focusing on the following fundamentals: organization of your thoughts before writing, finding the right words, the exact words, to reflect your thoughts, and by carefully editing your writing before using it.  These are fundamental guidelines to be mastered before you can consider yourself an accomplished writer.

Anybody can learn to write well but you need the desire and dedication to do it.  If you’re willing to put in the time and learn the skills, the satisfaction and rewards will come.  Even if writing is not your strong suit, you can still improve your writing skills by following the guidelines and techniques explained in my eBook.

But, first things first. Make up your mind you’re going to learn to write clearly.  Then stick with it.

Copyright © 2012.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

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The Economy Needs You To Join The Skilled Work Force

Everybody needs to make a contribution to improving the economy.  You can do your part by learning to write more clearly.  This may seem like a small contribution, but it’s an important one, and every little bit helps.

Learning to write more clearly will help make the work force more effective.  Making the work force more effective will help the economy grow.  That’s the bottom line.

Last week’s blog alluded to the need to have a skilled work force to help move the economy ahead, a topic touched on in the presidential debate on October 3.  One of the 5 points urged by Mitt Romney was to have a skilled work force to encourage the growth of small business.

This is a crucial point because the growth of small business is badly needed as a means of reducing the country’s unemployment burden.   Small business employs a huge number of workers and creates two thirds of the jobs but without lower taxes and less regulation, growth in small business is stifled.

Education is a vital key to reach the goal of increasing employment. Without doubt, education includes learning to write clearly.  To put it differently, clear writing is a goal unto itself, but education in the form of learning how to write clearly, is a means to that end.  To continue that thought, small business needs a skilled work force to succeed, and without the ability to communicate clearly, any work force is at a disadvantage. I’ve said it before on this blog site, but it bears repeating:  the power of the written word is more important today than ever before.  It’s your key to the future.

My eBook, “The Art of Clear Writing,” is all about writing clearly.  It is designed to improve the clarity of writing for all those who feel their writing needs improvement.  The eBook opens with a story about Doris Day’s lawsuit against her former lawyer, Jerry Rosenthal.  I was head of the defense team in that case.  The court found that Rosenthal had his faults so far as his representation of Doris Day was concerned, but he nevertheless was an experienced and effective legal writer.  He had a 3-step routine that he followed for any writing project: he always carefully planned what he was going to write, made it a point to find and use the right words to fully express his thoughts, and thoroughly reviewed and edited his writing before pronouncing it “done.”  The eBook is available at amazon.com/kindlebooks and can be previewed free of charge.

These are key lessons to learn for anyone who believes their writing is substandard.  They are important steps to take on the road to developing confidence in your writing.  The underlying proposition of my eBook is that because writing is an art form, it can be learned.  But you need the desire and dedication to do it.  If you’re willing to put in the time, the rewards will come.  Even if writing is not your strong suit, you can still learn and significantly improve your writing ability by starting with the three lessons mentioned above.

Another important writing feature extolled in my eBook is that good grammar can be learned by word association.  It’s not necessary to memorize grammar rules to learn to write clearly, although memorization may still be necessary to pass examinations.  Memorization has little effect on understanding the context with which words are used.  The best expression of thoughts through good grammar can be learned by observing the association of the right word with the appropriate context in a sentence.  The emphasis should be on training your eye to carefully observe how grammar is used in putting sentences together and to constantly practice what you have learned in your writing.  This approach requires training the eye to recognize correct word association through extensive reading, and regular practicing of your writing.  I have had personal experience with this approach.  It has worked for me; it can work for you as well.

The ability to communicate clearly is vital for job placement, career advancement, earnings potential, and business success.  There is no better time to undertake the task of improving your writing. Start today. The economy needs your help.

Copyright © 2012.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

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America’s Destiny – Preordained Or Not?

On Tuesday, October 2, 2012, as the presidential candidates headed toward their first debate,  my thoughts turned to the country we live in,  a country which has borne, and still bears, it share of spilled blood as the price for the freedom we all cherish.  It is an amazing country, where we choose our leaders by vote and not by gunfire.

I often think about where the country is today, vis a vis the world.  Was the United States destined to become The United States?  It’s a question I often ponder, considering that a scant 234 years ago there was no country in existence, but only a huge, essentially undeveloped land mass, inhabited by perhaps a million Native Americans, Mexicans, and others.  Suppose Great Britain, and not America, had won the American Revolution.  What would have happened if there had been no United States in place to counter the 20th century efforts of Germany and Japan to rule the world?  Suppose there had been no United States around to thwart the drive of Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union to impose communism on peoples and countries throughout the world.

Was America supposed to endure all the bloodshed, all the heartaches, all the growing pains, to get to, shall we say, its destined place in the world?

I think about the Civil War as well, a war which cost the country hundreds of thousands of lives, not to mention the enormous emotional suffering, and financial and property losses.  What would have happened if the Confederacy had won, if the Union had not been preserved.  Clearly there would be no United States of America, not as we know it today.  The Union prevailed, thanks to the unrelenting efforts of Abraham Lincoln.  Was that result preordained?

I was doing some Civil War background reading recently.  It seems that shortly after the battle of Belmont, Missouri, November 7, 1861, Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant, who ultimately became commanding general in charge of all Union forces, was out on horseback, alone, doing some reconnoitering near the Mississippi River. At one point he stopped alongside a cornfield.  A troop of Confederate soldiers, under the command of Major General Leonidas Polk, “The Fighting Bishop,” passed within about fifty yards of where Grant was mounted.  He stared at the passing troops, who stared back at him.  Grant then turned his mount and trotted slowly away until out of sight, then, increasing speed, galloped away as fast as the horse could carry him, returning to the ferry which had brought him downstream.

The next day, while on a truce-boat, he met some officers from General Polk’s command. He mentioned to an officer he had known both at West Point and in the Mexican War that he had been in a cornfield near their troops when they had passed by.  The officer, who had been on General Polk’s staff, replied that he and General Polk had seen Grant.  He had heard General Polk tell his men, “There’s a Yankee (meaning Grant).  You may try your marksmanship on him if you wish.”  But no one did.  Upon his return to the transport, he threw himself down on a sofa briefly, then arose to go out on deck.  Moments after he got up, a musket ball  pierced the head of the sofa where he had just been laying, imbedding itself in the foot of the sofa.

Earlier that day, Grant had had a horse shot out from under him.

U.S. Grant has been acclaimed by some historians as the man who saved the Union.  But was it mere happenstance that he was not killed in battle, or was there a higher power working in his favor?  Without Grant, President Lincoln would not have found the general he had been looking for in the earlier war years, a general who knew how to fight.  In that case, perhaps the war would have ended differently.  Perhaps, also, it was supposed to end the way it did, with a triumphant Union.

I think the United States is a stabilizing force in the world today.  I also think that’s the way it was supposed to be, from the beginning.

***

The need for a skilled work force was one subject touched on during the presidential debates.   It’s a step towards an improved economy.  Having strong writing skills will make you part of that work force.  It will help in job placement, career advancement, and improved business performance.   One facet of those skills is to avoid the use of unnecessary words.  Edit, edit, edit.  Make your copy tight.  Tight means succinct but readable, using the least number of words possible to get your thought across.  Make your writing easy to understand, conversational, so it sounds natural.  These techniques and others are explained in my eBook, “The Art of Clear Writing.”  It is available on amazon.com/kindlebooks for $4.99, but can be previewed free of charge.

Copyright © 2012 Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

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