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August 2010
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Do stories really persuade?

Many good CLE programs for litigators include panels of judges, who tell the attending lawyers the kinds of argument and behavior that judges like to see or don’t like to see. I appreciate these opportunities, since judges are the people I’m trying to persuade. But I’ve often wondered whether these presentations are answering the right question. While I want the judges to like me, I want even more to win. And I’ve wondered whether what judges like is really the same as what persuades them.

Ken Chestek So I salute Prof. Ken Chestek of the Indiana University School of Law.1 He recently conducted a study, trying to determine empirically whether a brief with an element of storytelling is more persuasive or less persuasive than a purely logical, law-driven brief—one that omits the interesting but perhaps legally irrelevant story. He published the results of his study in an article that you can download here. Although (as Prof. Chestek acknowledges) the sample size may be too small to draw definitive conclusions, the study’s results suggest that storytelling makes for a more persuasive brief.

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1 Another reason I salute Prof. Chestek is that he is a man who supports his home team and honors his bets. For that story, visit Legal Writing Prof Blog.


Why is this guitar beautiful? And what does that teach us about writing?

DSCN3434

When I saw this guitar pictured in an advertisement, I knew I was going to buy it. I did. What made it so appealing? From the picture, you can seen that it’s different: it’s plain and unvarnished. When you look at it up close, hold it in your hands, and play it, you discover that it’s also finely crafted. The lesson: You can distinguish yourself from the herd by making your writing plain, unvarnished, and finely crafted.

(For you guitar aficionados out there, this is a Martin DXK2AE.)


Discreet v. discrete — an easy way to remember which is which

Daily Writing Tips has a post today about the homonyms discreet and discrete. Discreet means careful and circumspect in one’s speech. Discrete means individually separate and distinct.

When using either word, I’ve always had to pull out the dictionary, because I can never remember which spelling goes with which meaning. But today I came up with this memory aid: When referring to two things that are individually separate, choose the spelling where the two e's are separated.