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Effective Editing

Twitter Archive
(see an explanation of Twitter terminology below)

Twitter.com/LawWriting


“There is no great writing, only great rewriting.” Justice Louis Brandeis

Always allow time for putting a draft away for a while before you look at it with a critical eye. RT @DailyEngHelp

Editing? Print out documents to re-read them. If you print in a different font, it will help you read with fresh eyes. RT @Law_Writer, @CTBar

Read your writing out loud. You’ll hear where the problem areas are—where you stumble, get confused. That’s where to edit.

Reading out loud as you edit will also help you find places where you can improve sentence rhythm and balance.

More on reading out loud to improve your writing.

5 Ways to Edit With Fresh Eyes—Helpful for editing legal writing too. RT @writingislife

When you work with different versions of a document, have you ever discovered that you’re editing the wrong one? Avoid the problem by coloring the text of the old version to make it obvious that it’s not the working copy. By @SubvCopyEd

As you edit, keep asking yourself: What am I trying to say? Does this sentence/paragraph/section say it?

Organizational problems with your draft? Write a few key words about each paragraph in the margin and then read down the margin. Does the organization make sense? Are there missing points?

Avoid long paragraphs/long blocks of print. Use white space, bullets, and lists to make your writing easier to read.

Clarity is more important than brevity. Use logical order, group like with like, use navigational aids (via @susanweiner @steverubel).

Make Words Stick With Coherence and Cohesion by @RoyPeterClark (via @EditorMark, @Poynter)

Your sentences should not all sound alike. Vary sentence structure and length—it will help keep your reader awake.

Good test for an overloaded sentence: Read it aloud. How does it sound? How many breaths do you need to get through it?

“Only two cures for the long sentence: (1) Say less; (2) Put a period in the middle. Neither expedient has taken hold in the law.” Professor David Mellinkoff

Avoid (or re-write) sentences starting with long dependent clauses. The long clauses make your reader work too hard.

Use roadmap sentences (or paragraphs) for entire document and for sections so your reader knows where you are going. Sample roadmap sentences:

• Our facts differ from the cited case in three ways.

• Liability is clear under both federal and New York law.

How to annoy your reader: Start a paragraph with “Second” when the previous paragraph didn’t start with “First”.

When “Second” starts a paragraph without a preceding “First”, your reader will scan back before reading forward: You are wasting reader’s time.

When referring to a case holding, write “the court held”—words like stated, noted, indicated all refer to dicta.

Move case name and citation to the end of your sentence. Start sentence with holding/what’s important about the case.

For defined terms, just use quotation marks and parentheses. You don’t need “hereinafter known as . . .”

“Do a draft” doesn’t mean an unfinished work. It means “finish completely, then expect to make changes.” RT @ProfJonathan

“You become a good writer . . . by having your work routinely subjected to withering scrutiny, by you or . . . others.” RT @AdamsDrafting

Six rules that should be applied to legal writing (and other writing too), from George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language:

1: Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

2: Never use a long word where a short one will do.

3: If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

4: Never use the passive where you can use the active.
(Here, I disagree: Sometimes the passive works better.)

5: Never use a foreign phrase, scientific word, or jargon if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

6: Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.


Top of PageTwitter Terminology

An explanation of Twitter terminology

@Name is a person or organization’s Twitter name. You can find that person’s tweets at Twitter.com/Name.

RTs I repeat a tweet—“retweet” or “RT”—when I find an interesting suggestion or a useful web resource posted by someone else. The @Name in the RT indicates whose post I am retweeting.

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