Plain English for Lawyers

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1 Plain English for Lawyers

2

3 Plain English for Lawyers fifth edition Richard C. Wydick emeritus professor of law university of california, davis Carolina Academic Press Durham, North Carolina

4 Copyright 2005 Richard C. Wydick All Rights Reserved Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Wydick, Richard C. Plain English for lawyers / by Richard C. Wydick. -- 5th ed. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN (alk. paper) 1. Legal composition. I. Title. KF250.W ' dc Carolina Academic Press 700 Kent Street Durham, North Carolina Telephone (919) Fax (919) Printed in the United States of America

5 To JJW, with love

6

7 Contents Preface and Acknowledgments Chapter 1 Why Plain English? 3 Chapter 2 Omit Surplus Words 7 How to Spot Bad Construction 7 Avoid Compound Constructions 11 Avoid Word-Wasting Idioms 13 Focus on the Actor, the Action, and the Object 15 Do Not Use Redundant Legal Phrases 17 Chapter 3 Use Base Verbs, Not Nominalizations 23 Chapter 4 Prefer the Active Voice 27 The Difference Between Active and Passive Voice 27 The Passive Can Create Ambiguity 30 Chapter 5 Use Short Sentences 33 Chapter 6 Arrange Your Words with Care 41 Avoid Wide Gaps Between the Subject, the Verb, and the Object 41 Put Conditions and Exceptions Where They Are Clear and Easy to Read 44 When Necessary, Make a List 45 Put Modifying Words Close to What They Modify 47 xi vii

8 viii contents Avoid Nested Modifiers 50 Clarify the Reach of Modifiers 51 Chapter 7 Choose Your Words with Care 55 Use Concrete Words 56 Use Familiar Words 57 Do Not Use Lawyerisms 58 Avoid Shotgunning 61 In Rule Drafting, Prefer the Singular Number and the Present Tense 62 Use Words of Authority with Care 63 Chapter 8 Avoid Language Quirks 69 Avoid Elegant Variation 69 Avoid Noun Chains 71 Avoid Multiple Negatives 71 Avoid Cosmic Detachment 72 Use Strong Nouns and Verbs 73 Avoid Sexist Language 74 Chapter 9 Punctuate Carefully 81 How Punctuation Developed 81 Lawyers Distrust of Punctuation 82 Punctuate Carefully 83 Definition of Terms 84 Commas 85 Semicolons 90 Colons 92 Dashes 93 Parentheses 94 Apostrophes 95 Hyphens 97 Periods, Question Marks, and Exclamation Points 99 Quotations 101

9 contents ix Appendix: Reader s Exercise Key 109 Index and Lawyer s Word Guide 121

10

11 Preface and Acknowledgments The first ed i ti on of Plain En glish for Law yers was a revi s ed vers i on of an arti cle that appe a red in 66 Ca l i fornia Law Revi ew 727, p u bl i s h ed by the stu dents of the Un ivers i ty of Ca l i forn i a, Berkel ey, S ch ool of L aw, copyri ght 1978, by the Ca l i fornia Law Revi ew, In c. Ma ny of the ch a n ges made in su b s equ ent ed i ti ons reflect the ide a s, wri ti n gs, and su gge s ti ons made by others who toil in the field of l ega l wri ti n g. My debts to them are so many that to ack n owl ed ge all of t h em properly in foo tn o tes or en d n o tes would distract the re ader a sin that all of us in the field pre ach aga i n s t. Thu s, l et me here thank my sch o l a rly cred i tors including the fo ll owi n g : Ken n eth Ad a m s, Ma rk Adl er, Robert Ben s on, Norman Bra n d, Robert Ch a i m, Robert Ch a rrow, Veda Ch a rrow, Ma rtin Cut t s, Robert Eagl e s on, J. M. Foers, Bryan Garn er, Tom Goldstei n, G eor ge Ha t h aw ay, Ma r ga ret Jo h n s, Jo s eph Ki m bl e, Philip Kn i gh t, Jet h ro Lieberm a n, Ray Pa rn a s, Ja n i ce Red i s h, Peter Ti ers m a, Ri ch a rd Th om a s, and Garth Th orn ton. Thanks also to Kel tie Jones for her fine work on the punctu a ti on ch a pter. I owe special thanks to David Mell i n kof f, who died on the last d ay of the 20th cen tu ry. He was edu c a ted at Stanford Un ivers i ty and Ha rva rd Law Sch oo l. Af ter serving as an arti ll ery of ficer in Worl d War II, he became a su ccessful practicing law yer in Beverly Hi lls and later a beloved law professor at UCLA. All of us in the field of legal writing have benefitted from his careful scholarship and wise guida n ce ex pre s s ed in The La n g u a ge of the Law ( ), Legal Wri ti n g : xi

12 xii preface and acknowledgments S en se & No n sen se ( ), and Mell i n kof f s Di cti o n a ry of Am eri c a n Legal Usage (1992). Richard C. Wydick Davis, California June 2005

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