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

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