Monday, 1 July 2013

Lawyers: 5 Tips for Effective Writing

Writing... It's a topic I've covered before, and if you're interested, check out my posts on writing a law blog and writing clearly. Today though, I want to cover writing techniques at a more granular level.

My experience is that writing is an act of constant editing. The hardest bit is typically getting something on paper, but once that first draft is written, it is then simply a matter of chopping and changing the content until you're happy.

Tip 1: just do it

I think a lot of people do 'just do it' and then press publish or send. Please don't do this. Check your writing carefully and at the very least, run a spelling and grammar check. But don't rely solely upon this, as it will only highlight incorrectly spelt words, not those used incorrectly - for example 'any' rather than 'and'.

I edit all copy ruthlessly and endlessly. I'm also obsessed with brevity and clarity. I read a great post on LinkedIn this week about cutting irrelevant words from writing and announcements. The article is spot on and you can check it out here.

Tip 2: edit edit edit

Sometimes, I really struggle to get something down - often when I'm tired, or if I've already written a lot of content that day. When floundering I try to move onto something less demanding for an hour or so.

Tip 3: write when you are fresh and full of beans

My pet hate is the use of the same word or phrase over and over again. If you've used 'professional' once, try not to rely upon it again. The same goes for specialist, expert, unique, valuable etc. It's lazy writing and there's usually no excuse for it. Thesaurus.com is a handy resource, as is the Microsoft synonyms tool. You can also use the 'find' function if you fear you've over-used a particular word. Sometimes repetition cannot be helped - but even just being conscious of avoiding it will probably make you a better writer.

Tip 4: don't overuse favourite words or phrases

I like to keep my sentences really short. That's because I think they are easy to read. In addition, short sentences enable me to keep to the point, and hopefully encourage my reader to continue.

Punctuation is a little bit like breathing. (Takes a breath) Insert commas and full stops at natural pause-points and you won't go far wrong. (Takes a breath).

If you write really long sentences without making use of punctuation marks your reader will find it difficult to understand where one idea ends and the next begins, they will also hate you for being unclear and for not giving them permission to stop and breathe.

If I'm honest, even writing that sentence was a struggle, and reading it back makes my eyes start crossing. Hopefully you understand my point.

Tip 5: keep sentences short and make use of punctuation marks

The above 5 ideas are just the points that I use to guide my writing, so let me know if you think I've missed anything fundamental.

By Victoria Moffatt

LexRex provides specialist PR and communications consultancy to law firms across the UK. Headed by ex-lawyer Victoria Moffatt, we understand both the law and the art of communications.

LexRex now offers a range of different writing training courses, including the popular 'Exciting Writing for Lawyers' and 'Clear Writing for Junior Lawyers' workshops. If you would like further information about these new products or our other services, please drop us a line via email: info@lexrexcommunications.com or tweet us: @LexRexComms or @vicmoffatt

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