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Et al. not = etc.

Here's something I didn't know until I read today's installment of Garner's Usage Tip of the Day:

"Et al." ... is used only in reference to people, whereas "etc." is used in reference to things.

If you'd like to sign up for Garner's daily tips, click here and check the box that says "Garner's Usage Tip of the Day."

On the cover of a brief

First impressions count. Therefore, lawyers who write briefs ought to pay more attention to the form and content of the cover. I see too many briefs with covers that look like this. What's wrong with this cover? Many things.

  • Every single character is in bold typeface. This defeats the purpose of bold typeface, which is to make selected text stand out. When everything is in bold, nothing stands out.
  • Everything is in all capital letters. This makes everything on the cover more difficult to read.
  • Everything is the same size. Whether you work in Word or WordPerfect, you can vary the sizes of the letters to make the more important information stand out.
  • It contains extraneous words that are not required by the applicable court rule (FRAP 32(a)(2), for those keeping score at home). The words "IN THE" before the title of the court are unnecessary, as is the name of the trial-court judge and the trial-court case number. Anything not required by the court rule is useless clutter.

Instead of committing these sins, do the following when designing the cover of a brief:

  • Follow the court rules. Include on the cover everything that the rules require. Omit anything that the rules don't require.
  • For most text, do not use all capital letters. All caps may be okay in very small doses, but the majority of the text should be in lower-case letters. (For some things you're used to seeing in all caps, try small caps for lower-case letters.)
  • For most text, use regular typeface, not bold. Reserve bold typeface for the most important information.
  • I assume that to the court, the most important information is the case number and the caption identifying whose brief this is. I put those two things in bold typeface, and everything else in regular typeface. For extra emphasis, I put those two items in a different font and increased the font size two points.

The result looks like this. Print out the before and after versions of this cover, lay them side by side, and decide for yourself which one you'd rather read.

Plain Language Handbook, by Richard Lauchman

Plain Language, by Richard Lauchman, is "a handbook for writers in the U.S. Government." Lauchman uses the book in conjunction with his writing seminars, but he has also made it available on his web site for free downloading by anyone, "because better writing benefits everyone." He encourages everyone "to download it, borrow from it, paraphrase it, and pilfer it." Check it out; you might learn something.

Ceely's Modern Usage

Please join me in welcoming Ceely's Modern Usage to the legal-writing blogroll. According to Ceely's first entry, its goal is to "post on the English language. Whatever ticks us off, whatever we find interesting, whatever we think people need to know." It's written by Alexandra, "a collector of 19th century textbooks, a former writing teacher, and an English language enthusiast," and Craig, "a writer and English major who has been considered a leading storm trooper in the war against bad grammar." My kind of people. If they're your kind too, then check out their blog.

First things first, most important things last

The Illinois Trial Practice Weblog, written by Evan Schaeffer, has an interesting entry today about arranging words within a sentence, drawn from Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace, by Joseph M. Williams. Evan also links to an article by George D. Gopen on a related topic: the importance of the stress position in a sentence. If you're interested in Gopen's article, I suggest you read it today, as tomorrow it may disappear behind a subscribers-only wall.

Speaking of Evan, he's written several articles on legal writing. You can find them (among others) by clicking here.

Citing an electronic record

No sooner did I write the post below about record citation than I was introduced to my first electronic appellate record: five thousand plus pages of stuff on one CD. This technology is going to save millions of trees. At the same time, it raises a question not answered in any citation or style guide I know of: How do you cite an electronic record?

The answer to this question depends on the form of the electronic record. In the case I'm working on, the record is in a pair of humongous PDF files. Each PDF file is bookmarked by document number, corresponding to the document numbers on the docket sheet. So for this case, my citations will give the reader the page number and the document number, for example, "R. 4,567, Doc. 123." (No claim of invention here; I've seen similar citations in others' papers.) This form of citation will (I hope) give the reader two pieces of information that can be used to zero in on whatever I'm citing.

Citing a multi-volume record

(Here's something I posted earlier today on Appellate Law & Practice.)

In an appellate brief, how do you cite the record? Both the Bluebook and the ALWD Citation Manual tell you to use the abbreviation "R." followed by the page number.1 That's fine — for a one-volume record. But when you have a multi-volume record, I recommend including the volume number in the citation. Bryan Garner's Redbook suggests using the volume number, the initial "R.," and the page number.2 Thus, if page 1071 appears in volume 5 of the record, the citation is 5 R. 1071.

Why include the volume number when neither the Bluebook nor the ALWD Citation Manual requires it? Because your job as briefwriter is to make it as easy as possible for the court to rule in your favor. That means making it as easy as possible for the court to find whatever you're citing. That means: don't force them to guess or figure out or hunt for the volume containing page 1071. Give them the information they need to locate page 1071 instantly.


1 Bluebook 19 (18th ed. 2005); ALWD Citation Manual 256 (3d ed. 2006).

2 Redbook 106–07 (2002).

Adams Drafting

Please join me in welcoming Adams Drafting to the blogroll. It's written by Ken Adams, a scholar in the art of drafting contracts. Here's what Ken hopes to deliver on his blog:

[The blog] has a specific function. Even after a couple of books and a dozen articles, I still have lots to write about. I’ll continue to use articles to lay out my thoughts on bigger topics, but that leaves plenty of tricky smaller issues of contract language. The blog will provide an incentive for me to actually tackle them, rather than, say, procrastinate until deadlines loom for the next edition of my ABA book “A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting” (which I’ll often be referring to as “MSCD”).

So visit Ken's blog, bump up his stat counters, and give him some added incentive to continue. And when you visit, don't miss his articles page.