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Stylistic imitation

Today’s installment of Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day included this quotation. This is why I preach against over-reliance on form files and encourage writers to nurture their own individual style.

“Much bad writing today comes not from the conventional sources of verbal dereliction—sloth, original sin, or native absence of mind—but from stylistic imitation. It is learned, an act of stylistic piety which imitates a single style, the bureaucratic style I have called The Official Style. This bureaucratic style dominates written discourse in our time, and beginning or harried or fearful writers adopt it as protective coloration.”

—Richard A. Lanham, Revising Prose vi (3d ed. 1992).

Point first, details after

Briefwriters are told to state the issue first, before the statement of facts. Why? Because knowing the issue the issue enables the reader to give meaning to the facts.

This isn’t a legal-writing thing; it’s a writing-for-humans thing. For elaboration, read this post by Roy Jacobsen, commenting on John Medina’s book, Brain Rules. Roy says that “there’s plenty in [this book] for writers to learn.” That grabs my interest.

Cert. petitions in the U.S. Supreme Court

If you have a case poised for a shot at the U.S. Supreme Court, then you’ll want to read Tips on Petitioning for and Opposing Certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court, by Mayer Brown appellate lawyers Timothy Bishop, Jeffrey Sarles, and Stephen Kane. While you’re at it, you might peruse some of the MB appellate group’s other articles on Supreme Court practice or appellate practice.

Why we should hyphenate our phrasal adjectives

A magazine I’m looking at now has a story with this headline:

401(k) Excessive Fee Litigation

This leaves me to wonder what is excessive: the fee or the litigation? The story reveals that it’s about litigation over excessive fees. A little punctuation removes the ambiguity:

401(k) Excessive-Fee Litigation

“When a phrase functions as an adjective—an increasingly frequent phenomenon in late-20th-century English—the phrase should ordinarily be hyphenated. Seemingly everyone in the literary world knows this except lawyers.” Bryan A. Garner, A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage 657 (2d ed. 1995).

If you write for publication

If you write for publication (law reviews, bar journals, magazines), then you’ll benefit from Framing Academic Articles, by Gregory G. Colomb and the late Joseph M. Williams. It describes how to write an introduction that grabs readers’ attention—how to make readers care about your arcane legal topic.

The article appears in the latest issue of Perspectives, a free newsletter published by West for teachers of legal research and writing. Although most of the articles are geared toward teachers, each issue also carries one article on writing tips, which practitioners who care about improving their own writing will find useful. To subscribe to the hard copy, click here.