When drafting any document—from a contract to a research memo—always remember: Effective documents are written in a way that the reader can easily read and understand. Here are eight techniques to make your writing as clear, and thus as effective, as possible.
- Use familiar language. Always try to use common words and avoid legalistic or foreign terminology; regardless of how complex the issues may be, using plain English will aid understanding.
- Cut to the essentials. Omit unnecessary words and phrases; avoid redundancy.
- Stay active. Use active rather than passive verbs to reduce wordiness and avoid ambiguity.
- Consider using formatting to ease reading. You may want to use multiple columns if the document is printed in a small font size, because the human eye has difficulty following small print across a wide page.
- Stay short and to the point. Use short and specific sentences, paragraphs, and sections.
- Break it down. Use “bullets” or numbered clauses to break up long sentences and lists.
- Keep language real. Use real words rather than jargon (e.g., using “task” as a verb).
- Use headings. Use numerous article, section, and paragraph headings to lead the reader through the document.
Although you don’t have to apply these techniques dogmatically, try to use them as frequently as possible. When you have a choice, avoid legalistic terminology and complicated structures in everything you write.
The Securities and Exchange Commission publishes an excellent handbook on preparing documents in plain English: A Plain English Handbook: How to Create Clear SEC Documents. Also review the drafting guidance in CEB’s Drafting Business Contracts: Principles, Techniques and Forms, chap 2. And for expert advice on legal writing, check out CEB’s program Smith and McGinty on Legal Writing, available On Demand.
Other CEBblog™ posts you may find useful:
- The Secret to Better Legal Writing
- 4 Ways to Avoid Ambiguity in Your Writing
- 5 Writing Tips for Every Contract You Draft
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