Civil Litigation Legal Writing Litigation Strategy

Six Tips to Writing A More Persuasive Brief

Persuasive sentences make for a persuasive brief. The following six tips will allow your readers to easily sail through your briefs as you persuade them along the way.

1. Omit needless words. Omit words that do no useful work, including adjectives or adverbs that mean the same as the nouns or verbs they modify (e.g., “an untenable contradiction”) and hollow words or phrases that add no meaning (e.g., “actual,” “clear,“ “dimension,” “it is important to note that,” “meaningful,” “ongoing,” “process,” “having said that,” “very,“ “virtually”). Omit information that the reader knows because it was stated before, or is implicit (e.g., “in this case”), or does not advance your argument (e.g., “This issue was addressed in Smith v Jones”).

2. Choose a strong subject. A persuasive sentence starts with a strong subject—usually someone taking action. Avoid weak subjects like “There is” or “It is.” People taking action are stronger subjects than concepts and abstractions, which obscure the point.

3. Link the sentence to prior text. Sentences flow smoothly when they are clearly linked. A link is created by a subject that repeats or refers back to the prior thought. A link is also created by starting the sentence with a signal, alerting the reader to the logic of the next thought. For example, to add a point, use “And,” “Also,” or “Further.” To introduce a series of points, use “First,” “Second,” and so forth. To introduce a contrasting point, use “But,” “Yet,” “Still,” or “By contrast.” To introduce a cause, use “Because,” “When,” or “As a result of.” To introduce an effect, use “Hence,” “Thus,” or “So.” To make a minor concession, use “Although.” To press a point, use “Indeed.” To restate a point, use “In short.” To apply authority, use “Under.” Such signals orient the reader and thus make the sentence more persuasive.

4. Avoid long introductory clauses. Long introductory clauses obscure the point. They require the reader to retain information before the reader knows its relationship to the subject. Limit introductory clauses to four words (or make that clause a separate sentence).

5. Put citations at the sentence’s end. A citation at the start of the sentence obscures the sentence’s point. Instead, start with the point and put the cite at the sentence’s end. Do not put citations in footnotes; judges and staff attorneys want the citation in the text so they can easily check the assertion against the citation.

6. End the sentence with the point of emphasis. The most emphatic place in a clause or sentence is the end, so put the main point there. Do not squander the position of emphasis by ending with a date, case name, party name, or qualifying phrase, unless that is the sentence’s point. For example, to challenge an expert’s testimony because the water sample tested from a contaminated well was too small, do not write: “The expert tested too small a sample from the well.” Instead, put the point of emphasis at the end: “The sample that the expert tested from the well was too small.”

By following these tips for persuasive sentences, you will be well on your way to filing persuasive briefs.

These tips originate from Daniel U. Smith, who teaches CEB’s very popular program Smith on Legal Writing, offered again in October and November 2012 and thereafter available On Demand.

© The Regents of the University of California, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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