Saturday, June 08, 2013

Clear, concise, and effective English for law students, bar examinees, and legal writers in organizations, private companies, and government offices (08): Keep your text concise

[1] Thomas Jefferson: “The most valuable of talents is never using two words when one will do.”
[2] George Orwell: “Never use a long word where a short one will do. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.”

[3] “Write clearly and simply if you can, and you’ll be more likely to be thought of as intelligent.”

Prof. Daniel M. Oppenheimer of Princeton University published his study titled “Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity” in the 2006 Applied Cognitive Psychology Journal. Actually, the title (as I quoted it) is incomplete; Prof. Oppenheimer was having fun because the other half of his study’s title is “Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly.”

Oppenheimer surveyed 110 Stanford University students. Among other things, he asked them the following questions:

“Have you ever changed the words in an academic essay to make the essay sound more valid or intelligent by using complicated language?” 86.4% said yes.

“When you write an essay, do you turn to the thesaurus to choose words that are more complex to give the impression that the content is more valid or intelligent?” 75% said yes.

Among Oppenheimer’s findings are:
  • People are more likely to use big words when they are feeling the most insecure.
  • Leaders facing crucial decisions might use more complex vocabulary and end up undermining others’ confidence in their leadership ability.
  • Write clearly and simply if you can, and you’ll be more likely to be thought of as intelligent.

[4] “Conciseness” or “concision” ordinarily means being brief but technically, it means being direct to the point. Your goal as a legal writer is to be concise and clear. Some ways to keep your text concise and clear are:
  • Use short, simple words (for example, use “needs” instead of “necessitates”)
  • Avoid big words and pompous diction (use “because” instead of “due to the fact that”)
  • Omit redundant words (use “”facts” instead of “actual facts”)
  • Avoid redundant pairs
  • Avoid redundant modifiers
  • Avoid modifiers such as absolutely, actually, completely, really, quite, totally, and very
  • Avoid doublets and triplets (use either word instead of “authorize and empower”)
  • Watch out for “of,” “to,” “on,’ and other prepositions
  • Avoid noun strings
  • Avoid legal, foreign, and technical jargon
  • Avoid hidden verbs or nominalization (say “I decided” instead of “I made a decision”)

[5] Free resources:

“Plain English Lexicon” by Plain Language Commission

“The A to Z of alternative words” from Plain English Campaign

Articles from the Michigan Bar Journal:

Writing Smaller

Eschew Exaggerations, Disparagements, and Other Intensifiers

Hunting Down Nouners

Some Particularly Useless Words

Skimming the Fat Off Your Writing

Free seminars:

[1] “English Proficiency Course” (4 hours; for college students, K-to-12 teachers, other groups)

[2] “Clear, concise English for effective legal writing” (3-5 hours; for Student Councils, academic organizations, fraternities, sororities, NGOs, LGUs, any interested group; test yourself with the interactive exercises)

Seminars are for Metro Manila only. For more information or to schedule a seminar, please contact Atty. Gerry T. Galacio at 0927-798-3138.

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