Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Tips for Young Writers & Old Bloggers

A student in Law, a lay person representing himself in court, a journalist or even a serious blogger might well practice tips for writing “factums” by Ontario Judge, John L. Laskin in his 1999 paper, “Justice Done Dirt Cheap";

Tips for Young Writers & Old Bloggers

In our courts, the factum (written advocacy) is often more important than counsel’s oral argument. As Judge, Laskin says, writing concisely and well is hard work, but it enhances credibility while putting the judge in a receptive mood. This synopsis of his 1999 paper should benefit students and advocacy bloggers alike.

Always put yourself in the position of target reader(s). First, identify and frame the key issue. Don’t raise more issues than absolutely necessary. Research, think and write about “the” problem. Remember, the amount of detail depends on how narrowly or broadly you state the issue(s).

Begin with an overview statement of no more than one page, telling what the case is about, the main issues and your position on them. Use the first few paragraphs to put context up front so the decision maker can better absorb the details to follow. Provide enough facts in the overview to give context.

Point Writing
State your point or proposition before you develop it. Give context before details. Point writing should be used in every section and paragraph. And, try to restrict each new paragraph to one topic.

At the start of each paragraph, reveal the topic or idea about to be discussed. Be reader friendly and give the point first; usually it is your conclusion or submission on the issue. The remainder expands on the point, supports it or qualifies it. Always put the main point at the beginning or end of the sentence, not in the middle.

We absorb and recall information best when it is important and relevant. Readers skim if forced to read a lot of detail before knowing why it matters.

Since point first writing increases persuasiveness never resort to “point last" writing, or to "no-point-at-all" writing.

Headings, White Spaces, Etc.

Headings signal what comes next, and emphasize organization. In non-fiction, use superlatives at risk to your arguments and your credibility; the right verb or noun has far more impact. Likewise, restraint and understatement are more forceful than hyperbole.

Dismissing your opponent's position as frivolous and without merit is a mistake; far better to state his argument fairly –and then refute it.

Show preference for a concise style avoiding excessive use of adjectives and adverbs and limiting the passive voice. Long sentences are not wrong, they are just harder to understand and recall.

At draft stage, purge distortions and overstatements. Be wary of expressing the conclusion in superlatives. Identify and address obvious weaknesses; else, your opponent will. Also edit for accurate citations, typos, grammar and punctuation. Effective writing requires clear thinking and selection. Thherefore, prune excess facts, cut the fat and look for items that should be there.

Some words to avoid:
“It is respectfully submitted”, “completely wrong”, “clearly”
“It seems that”, “It is important to note”, “null and void”
Substitute “use” for “utilize”, “end for “terminate”, “did not remember” for “forgot” and “salary” for “remuneration”
For smooth flow and transition:
To express logical relationship: “because”, “therefore, “since.”
For contrast and comparison: “although”, “but”, “however.”
For progression: “next”, “also”, “first”, “second”, “finally.”
For a return to prior point: “still”, “nonetheless.”

Practicing the above improves one’s persuasion skills. Be sure to share it with fellow writers.
Much thanks goes to the Judge for the content of this post.

Here is an old post directed at new advocacy bloggers:


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