Saturday, April 06, 2019

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.”

From Wikipedia: Samuel Langhorne Clemens (November 30, 1835 - April 21, 1910), known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American writer, humorist, entrepreneur, publisher, and lecturer. His novels include The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and its sequel, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), the latter often called “The Great American Novel.”

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. 
From Wikipedia: Eric Arthur Blair (25 June 1903 – 21 January 1950), better known by his pen name George Orwell, was an English novelist, essayist, journalist and critic, whose work is marked by lucid prose, awareness of social injustice, opposition to totalitarianism, and outspoken support of democratic socialism.

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

“The twin themes of ‘Politics and the English Language’ are that writers should express themselves in plain English and that ‘euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness’ prevent or conceal clear thought.”

4. The “Brevity Memo” (August 9, 1940) by Winston Churchill, UK Prime Minister

5. “Keep it clear, keep it simple” (Feb. 27, 1979) by Lee Kuan Yew, first Prime Minister of Singapore

“The use of words, the choice and arrangement of words in accordance with generally accepted rules of grammar, syntax and usage, can accurately convey ideas from one mind to another. It can be mastered.”

“The written English we want is clean, clear prose - not elegant, not stylish, just clean, clear prose. It means simplifying, polishing and tightening.”

“Remember: That which is written without much effort is seldom read with much pleasure. The more the pleasure, you can assume, as a rule of thumb, the greater the effort.”

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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