Tuesday, February 24, 2015

More great advice from Scribes!

I have often told my students to write simply: don't try to impress professors with fancy language, long sentences, and semi-colons. A one or two-syllable word is nearly always better than its three or four-syllable counterpart. Think of Hemingway: no one wrote more simply than he, and yet he is considered one of the best authors of all time.

But now you don't have to take my word for it: take Scribes' word for it. This is the group mentioned in my previous post, a group dedicated to improving legal writing. Here's what Scribes has to say about simple versus complex in writing:
Scribes New Logo

"Writing Tip No. 47:  Simple Words, Simple Sentences

Life is complicated enough when we all use simple words we learned by high school.  Most briefs and opinions can be written with these words, and the rare need to use a more difficult word can be moderated by careful definition. Too often, attorneys and even some judges write as though their thesaurus was always at the ready to locate the more complicated synonym.
Even when composed of simple words, a sentence with several dozen to several hundred words is difficult to understand. Shorter sentences typically reflect a fuller, more confident understanding of the subject matter. It can't be a surprise that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure calls for "a short and plain statement of the claim." In other words, "Rule 8(a) requires parties to make their pleadings straightforward, so that judges and adverse parties need not try to fish a gold coin from a bucket of mud." Stanard v. Nygren, 658 F.3d 792, 798 (7th Cir. 2011), quoting United States ex rel. Garst v. Lockheed-Martin Corp., 328 F.3d 374, 378 (7th Cir. 2003).

So, there! Don't listen to me, but do listen to the wise writers at Scribes, the American Society of Legal Writers. 

Thanks to Ann Taylor Schwing 
Copyright (c) 2015 Scribes -- The American Society of Legal Writers

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Yes, there is a Santa Claus and yes, grammar really does matter.

I'm not so sure about Santa Claus other than to wonder why I am always so lucky, but the second part of this headline I am sure about. And to prove my point, I reproduce here a newsletter post from the folks at Scribes, a society for legal writers.

Scribes New Logo
February 13, 2015

Scribes Grammar Tip No. 46:  Grammar Knowledge Is Essential

Grammar is critical not only because it enables individuals to write coherently but also because it is used to assess the meaning of what others such as legislatures and contracting parties write. Thus, courts "begin by looking to the express language of the statute, construing words and phrases according to grammar and common usage."  Jefferson Board of Equalization v. Gerganoff, 241 P.3d 932, 935 (Colo. 2010). Courts are required to follow elemental rules of grammar for a reasonable application of the legal rules of construction. General Fin. Services v. Practice Place, 897 S.W.2d 516, 522 (Tex.App. 1995). Courts employ traditional rules of grammar in discerning the plain language of the statute. State v. Bunker, 189 Wash.2d 571, 578, 238 P.3d 487, 491 (2010)

Naturally, every rule has a countervailing rule. "Indeed, justice should not be the handmaiden of grammar." Value Oil Co. v. Town of Irvington, 152 N.J. Super. 354, 365, 377 A.2d 1225, 1231 (N.J. Super. 1977), aff'd, 164 N.J. Super 419, 396 A.2d 1149 (App.Div.1978), citing Minor v. The Mechanics Bank of Alexandria, 26 U.S. 46, 7 L.Ed. 46 (1828); accord, Federal Communications Comm'n v. AT&T Inc., ___ U.S. ___, 131 S.Ct. 1177, 1181-82 (2011).

In the end, only an attorney who knows the rules of grammar completely can find the persuasive right answer through the effort to interpret a difficult writing.

Authored by Ann Taylor Schwing 
Copyright (c) 2015 Scribes -- The American Society of Legal Writers 
[reproduced with permission]

Friday, February 6, 2015

For CJ majors...and all the rest of us

I came across this story in the New Yorker about how we remember catastrophic, emotion-filled events (like the JFK assassination for people my age) or the Challenger disaster (for people a bit older than my current student) or 9/11 for all of us.

When I teach my Roosevelt to Reagan course, I always explain that people of my generation can tell anyone exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news that President Kennedy had been shot. Apparently, according to the new study discussed in the New Yorker article, most of them are wrong.

This study has serious implications for criminal justice as it adds further questions to the reliability of witness testimony.