Monday, June 03, 2013

Clear, concise, and effective English for law students, bar examinees, and legal writers in organizations, private companies, and government offices (03): Classic advice on good writing

[1] The secret of good writing, by Mark Twain (in a letter to a 12-year-old boy)

I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words, and brief sentences. That is the way to write English—it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; and don’t let the fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in.
[2] Recommendations by H.W. Fowler (1906):
  • Prefer the familiar word to the far-fetched.
  • Prefer the concrete word to the abstraction.
  • Prefer the single word to the circumlocution.
  • Prefer the short word to the long.
  • Prefer the Saxon word to the Romance word.
[3] George Orwell in “Politics and the English Language” (1946):
  • Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  • Never use a long word where a short one will do. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  • Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  • Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  • Break any of these rules sooner than saying anything outright barbarous. 

Related resource: “Why George Orwell’s Ideas About Language Still Matter for Lawyers” by Judith D. Fischer, Montana Law Review

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