Course Outcomes

This plain-language course for lawyers and others in the legal profession will:

  • Define Plain English and its benefits.
  • Offer concrete techniques for clarifying text.
  • Suggest guidelines for choosing words.
  • Highlight choices writers make that complicate their documents.
  • Explain the importance of punctuation and give guidance as to its correct use.

Course Overview

“That sounds like a lawyer wrote it.” Compliment? Doubtful. Lawyers have a longstanding reputation for using ten words to say what three could accomplish faster and with less confusion. This writing course for lawyers makes a case for writing in Plain English and offers concrete advice as to how to do it. The course is fast paced, interactive, and hands on. Those seeking checklists, frameworks, and tricks for improving their text won’t find themselves disappointed.

Program Objectives

At this program’s conclusion, participants should be able to:

  • Explain why lawyers often favor complex text over Plain English.
  • Describe the benefits of Plain English.
  • Apply tactics to their writing to omit superfluous words.
  • Avoid bad sentence construction.
  • Replace hidden verbs (nominalizations) with base verbs.
  • Choose concrete words.
  • Remove unfamiliar words.
  • Avoid noun chains, multiple negatives, weak words, and other choices that negatively impact text.
  • Correctly use punctuation.

The following outline highlights some of the course’s key learning points. As part of your training program, we will modify content as needed to meet your business objectives. Upon request, we will provide you with a copy of the participant materials prior to the session(s).

Workshop Outline 

Making the Case: Why Plain English for Lawyers

This workshop begins with a discussion about Plain English and its benefits to lawyers and other professionals in the legal field. Working through a series of examples, participants will evaluate pieces of writing and decide what elements contribute to the texts’ clarity or confusion. Next, we will review the session’s agenda and adjust it based on the group’s goals for the day.

Suspend the Surplus: Less Is More

In his book Plain English for Lawyers, Professor Richard Wydick asserts that there are two kinds of words: glue word and working words. Working words convey meaning and glue words (e.g. the, of, that, was, for, and to) hold the sentence together. Further, he suggests that when the proportion of glue words to working words grows to favor the former disproportionately, sentences get longer and often harder to read. This part of the workshop thoroughly explores Wydick’s claim and introduces tactics for reducing glue words and other methods for writing stronger text.

All About the Base: Verbs Are Not Created Equal

Some verbs are stronger and better than others. The better a writer chooses verbs, the stronger a piece of writing becomes. This workshop segment looks at the traps into which writers fall when selecting verbs and techniques for identifying a weak verb’s more powerful cousin – the base verb. This course component also reviews the active voice and how using it benefits a document’s reader.

Construction Crimes: Getting Sentences in Order

Armed with an understanding of working words and the importance of verbs, in this next segment participants will examine a range of sentence construction crimes and rewrite poorly constructed sentences to comply with Plain English standards.

Distraction Action: Avoiding Language Lures

Whether it’s sexist text, fancy language, verbose prose, or some other crime of language distraction, poor choices on the part of the writer can crush a piece of writing’s effectiveness. This part of the workshop discusses the most common mistakes people in the legal profession make when choosing their words and how those errors detract from their messages.

Points of Punctuation: That Comma Costs a Million Dollars

Although punctuation is important in most professions, in the legal world poor punctuation can inadvertently communicate a message different from the writer’s original intentions. This final course component focuses on punctuation and its role in clarifying a writer’s meaning.

At the program’s conclusion, participants should have a clear understanding of plain language and its importance to legal professionals.