Tip 2 - Omit needless words.

If I had to choose just one book - a bible, so to speak - on writing to aid in crafting my legal documents, it would be The Elements of Style by Strunk & White. This pocketsize book was first written in 1919 and is still required reading at American universities today. Its rules on English usage and writing principles are sharp and brief. Perhaps it is this brevity that accounts for the book's longevity.

Indeed, when William Strunk taught English at Cornell in the early nineteen hundreds, he would shout out to his class, 'Omit needless words! Omit needless words! Omit needless words!'. Brevity is one of the top commandments in the gospel according to Strunk. Now that I find myself teaching English writing, I continue to pass along this rule, although more quietly.

Concise writing is often clear writing, writing where information is easily understood and flows effortlessly. Your reader should not have to struggle over a mound of words that do not add to the meaning of your sentence. Every word should move your text along to the point you wish to make. This is particularly important in a legal culture today where clients are more concerned with the bottom line than how florid and fancy are your opinion letters. However, the 'Omit needless words' mantra does not mean that all your sentences should be short and choppy or drained of detail and life. It means, as Strunk says, that you make 'every word tell.'

To better understand, compare the following passages:

1. Wordy.
As per your request, research was conducted on the issue as to whether the agreement between your company and Company X could be considered a violation of the European Competition Law as set out in Article 81 EC. It is our conclusion, based on the above-mentioned research, that the agreement that you have with Company X would not be found in violation of Article 81 for the reason that it would fall under an exemption to the competition rules as listed under Article 81(3) EC.

2. Concise.
We researched whether your agreement with Company X violates the European Competition Law and found that it does not because it falls under an Article 81(3) EC exemption.

3. Even Shorter.
Your agreement with Company X does not violate European Competition Law as it is exempt under Article 81(3) EC.

The best way to go from wordy paragraph No. 1 to succinct No. 3 is to consider the following changes:

Change the passive voice to active voice. Example: I changed 'research was conducted on the issue!' to 'we researched whether !.' The active voice places the emphasis on the subject or actor of the sentence, while the passive voice focuses what is being done to the actor. Generally, the active voice is more direct and clear.

Avoid nominalizations, that is, using noun forms of verbs. Example: I changed 'whether the agreement ! could be considered a violation' to 'whether the agreement violates' or 'the agreement does not violate.'

Replace unnecessary that, who, and which clauses with short phrases. Example: I changed 'the agreement that you have with Company X' to 'your agreement with Company X.'

Unless you want to emphasize a point, avoid using 'It is' or 'There is/are' at the beginning of your sentences. Example: I changed 'It is our conclusion' to 'We found' (or 'we conclude').

Replace wordy expressions with direct ones. Example: I changed 'for the reason that' to 'because' or 'as.'

If you would like to learn more, check out Purdue University's writing lab website, which offers more detailed examples of how to omit needless words and also provides a handy chart on how to replace wordy expressions with a simple word or phrase.


               Previous Tip - Place important ideas at the beginning of your document, paragraph and sentence.

Next Tip - Keep the subject, the verb and the object of a sentence together.

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