Over at Daily Writing Tips, Mark Nichol has links to six on-line dictionaries with descriptions of each one’s offerings. I’ve used two that he links to: Merriam-Webster and the Free Dictionary. I especially like the latter’s home page because it has links to specialized dictionaries.
Wayne Schiess has an interesting post on formatting your writing for screen readers. As Wayne points out, more and more people—including judges—are reading your writing on screen instead of on paper. So it makes sense to format your brief, memo, or whatever to make it screen friendly.
One thing Wayne suggests is to left-justify headings. I usually center my main headings (e.g. “Statement of the Case,” “Argument,” etc.) and left-justify my subheadings. But once, as an experiment, I tried left-justifying all headings—including the main ones. The resulting brief did not look bad. It certainly looked different. I went back to centering the main headings because I did not want the format of the brief to call attention to itself. But if we have reached the point where most readers are reading on screen instead of on paper, then it may be time to re-think the conventions originally developed for paper reading.
Just passing on an interesting post about informal style in writing generally and legal writing particularly, inspired by the Green Bag’s 2012 honorees for exemplary legal writing.1 It’s by Ryan G. Koopmans, a contributor to On Brief: Iowa’s Appellate Blog. Ryan advocates a less formal writing style. So do I, though I’m not sure that I’d call it informal versus formal. What I strive for is a relaxed, natural style—not prepackaged regurgitation of stock phrases, but language that comes from my own mind and heart.
Ryan asks the question, “Who is your style guide?” For me, it’s no one person. Two that come to mind are John Minor Wisdom and Antonin Scalia. I would not call their style “informal” so much as original and individual. Sames goes for Richard Posner and Alex Kozinski.
1 I’m not on the list.
If you are a procrastinating Louisiana lawyer still needing CLE credit, consider signing up for the Louisiana State Bar Association’s Multi-Section CLE, December 18–19 at the NOLA Sheraton. I will be filling in for my comrade Louis LaCour for the Appellate Section’s presentation at 8 a.m. on the 18th. The presentation will be a legal-writing clinic on techniques for emphasizing favorable stuff and de-emphasizing unfavorable stuff.
I had no idea that the grammar checker in Microsoft Word can be customized, until I read this post by Wayne Schiess.
Wayne Schiess reminds us practicing lawyers that we are professional writers, and we should therefore act like professional writers.