Making Your Point, by Kenneth F. Oettle
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At Your Fingertips: On-Line Resources for Writers

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Every writer needs a good bookshelf full of well-used reference books. The lawyer is no exception. If you do a lot of writing (and what lawyer doesn’t?), then your bookshelf probably holds a good English-language dictionary, a comprehensive legal dictionary such as Black’s Law Dictionary, a citation guide such as the Bluebook or the ALWD Citation Manual, Bryan A. Garner’s A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage, and other valuable reference books.

Today, in the Internet age, many tools for writers are available on the Web. Though there are still no on-line substitutes for many of the books mentioned above, there are many, many valuable Web-based resources to complement your reference-book collection. Here are a few of my favorites:

Dictionaries. Every writer needs a good dictionary. You can find many on-line dictionaries on the Web, but my personal favorite is The Free Dictionary ( It comprises a general dictionary based on The American Heritage Dictionary (4th ed.), a medical dictionary based on Stedman’s Medical Dictionary (2d ed.) and Dorland’s Medical Dictionary for Health Care Consumers, a legal dictionary based on The People’s Law Dictionary, a financial dictionary, and dictionaries of acronyms and idioms. I find The Free Dictionary so handy that I’ve made it the home page on my web browser. Any time I need to look up a word on the fly, I just open the browser and type in the word.

Quotations. Marlene Dietrich once said, “I love quotations because it is a joy to find thoughts one might have, beautifully expressed with much authority by someone recognized wiser than oneself.” When you’re looking for just the right quotation, but you don’t happen to have your copy of Barlett’s Familiar Quotations handy, just visit The Quotations Page ( There, you can search for quotations by key word or by author. I just used it a minute ago to find the one above by Marlene Dietrich. (If you’re a traditionalist who prefers using Bartlett’s, you can find it on-line at

Rhetoric. Rhetoric is the art of persuasion. If you’re a litigator, then you need to know rhetoric, because you’re in the business of persuading people.

There are many on-line resources on rhetoric. My two favorites are Silva Rhetoricae ( and American Rhetoric ( Silva Rhetoricae explains the ABC’s of rhetoric and contains a comprehensive, cross-referenced glossary of rhetorical devices. American Rhetoric contains an impressive on-line library of speeches, including transcripts and audio files. If a famous American gave a famous speech, you can probably find the transcript there. To find even more on-line resources on rhetoric, visit Beth Agnew’s Rhetoric page on Squidoo (

Briefwriting. Every federal circuit court has a web site, and each one offers on-line versions of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure and the court’s local rules. Most of them offer additional resources for practicing lawyers: things like briefing checklists and practitioner’s guides. If you are handling an appeal in any federal circuit court, do yourself and your client a favor: take a few minutes to visit the court’s web site, wander around a bit, and familiarize yourself with its resources. Later, when you need the answer to a procedural question, you’ll know exactly where to find it.

If you’d like to make sure that your brief complies with technical requirements for typography, read the Seventh Circuit’s Requirements And Suggestions For Typography In Briefs And Other Papers ( It explains what you need to know to comply with the rules: the difference between monospaced and proportionally spaced type, the difference between serif and sans-serif type, what a “point” is and how many of them your text needs, etc. It also offers tips for enhancing the readability of your brief.

If you’re writing a petition for certiorari for the U.S. Supreme Court, then you’ll want to follow William K. Suter’s Memorandum To Those Intending To Prepare A Petition For A Writ Of Certiorari In Booklet Format And Pay The $300 Docket Fee ( For many years, Suter has been the Clerk of the Supreme Court. He and his staff have seen every mistake that a lawyer can make in writing and printing a cert petition. In this memo, he tells you how to avoid those mistakes.

Classics. Probably every living American student of writing has read William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White’s The Elements of Style. What you may not know, however, is that the entire text of Professor Strunk’s first edition of this classic is on-line, at has many other classic works on-line. To see a complete list of’s on-line classics indexed by author, visit also has a terrific on-line reference shelf, which you can find by visiting

Citations. The best on-line citation guide I’ve found is the Introduction to Basic Legal Citation (, by Peter W. Martin, professor and former dean of the Cornell University Law School. This web site is based on both the Bluebook and the ALWD Citation Manual. But unlike the Bluebook, is focused on professional practice rather than law-review publication — meaning that it’s tailor-made for you.

Bookmark these web sites, and you’ll have a virtual legal-writing reference library at your fingertips.

[Originally published in For the Defense, June 2007, at 81. Copyright © 2007 DRI and Raymond P. Ward. All rights reserved.]