04 Nov 10 Tips for Clear and Effective Writing
With the flurry of daily communications, how do you make sure that your messages to a client or senior lawyer are read and understood?
Here are 10 tips to make your emails, letters, factums and memos stand out:
1. Consider the best way to draft your correspondence
Emails, memos, reporting letters and other legal correspondence have a time to be used.
Make sure you are using the correspondence type appropriate to properly convey the information.
2. Your subject or title should concisely describe the theme of your work
A title like “Question” or “Update” may easily be lost and is less likely to be opened or reviewed.
3. Put your decision/findings/question at the very beginning
If you start with your findings, the reader (if interested) can continue with the explanation detailed.
Consider and review the tenets of point-first legal writing.
4. Don’t use legal jargon if you don’t have to
If you can make your point using layman’s terms, do it!
5. That doesn’t mean be colloquial – remain professional
Do not use slang or short forms unless they are well known to the client or firm member.
Use “please” and “thank you” where appropriate.
6. Short sentences are easier to read
Sentences under 15 words are easier to understand.
7. If you have the time, set your draft aside for a while
Giving yourself time away from your work can help you to edit it and to work on the tone of the message before sending.
8. Think about layout
If you are drafting a long letter, add white space (this is easier on the eyes), headings and sub-headings, bolding, tables, lists or bullets.
Remember – when using a list, #1 will usually be perceived as the most important item.
9. Do a spelling and grammar check (but don’t exclusively rely on one) and a final review
People are more likely to discount your work if it has typos.
Ask a colleague if he/she can comment on your work to ensure you are being clear.
10. If you need further instructions to proceed, ask for a response to your email
The reader may not realize they need to provide you with a response unless you ask.
Urgent? Say so in the subject line or at the beginning of your correspondence.
Hopefully you will find these brief tips useful. There are many websites, books, courses, workshops and articles on this topic. For further review, consider Neil Guthrie’s “Guthrie’s Guide to Better Legal Writing”.
Author: Kaleigh Zimmerman