Lawyers are trained to get to the point.
This sounds almost laughable to anyone who has actually read through a standard form contract (like a credit card agreement). But it really is true. Lawyers are trained in law school and practice to economize their word use and communicate in short, simple sentences. Lawyers are also trained to use a specific writing structure to convey their ideas.
Starters should stop wasting their time and take up both of these habits.
Legal writing structure is based on the simple acronym CRAC:
Here’s an example of how this can work for starters:
Joe just got done reviewing two design concepts developed by his team for his company’s mobile app (a real-time cupcake delivery service). Design #1 incorporates a Pepto-Bismol pink color, which Joe hates because he’s read some research that says this shade of pink makes people run to the toilet. Joe really likes Design #2. He now needs to communicate this to his team so they can start coding for the design Joe picked.
Joe could bang out a three-page email devoid of structure that makes it hard for the team to determine which design Joe picked. Instead, Joe should take some CRAC.
- Conclusion: Let’s go with Design #2.
- Rule: Pepto-Bismol pink makes people run to the restroom when they see it.
- Application: If people have to run to the restroom when the app opens, they’ll never order cupcakes.
- Conclusion: So, let’s go with Design #2.
What does this structure actually accomplish in this example? First, it states Joe’s conclusion twice so that if a recipient just wants to skim briefly to see the answer, it’s easy enough to do. Second, it clearly provides Joe’s reasoning for his decision.
How might this answer look in a real response?:
I want to go with Design #2. People see Pepto-Bismol pink and run to the toilet. Design #1 has Pepto-Bismol pink in it. If people open the app and run to the toilet, they’ll never buy cupcakes from us. Please continue development of Design #2.
Short, Simple Sentences
There are a few keys to writing in short, simple sentences.
1.) What you talkin’ bout Willis? First, before even thinking about grammar, consider the message. What are you saying? Can it be said in fewer words? Here’s a trick: try to convey your message in a Twitter-style 140 characters.
2.) Grammargasm. There are a couple of grammar rules that will help make your writing more readable. One of those is nominalizations. A nominalization occurs when a verb is turned into a noun and another similar verb is used to convey the action.
- With Nominalization: The police conducted an investigation into the matter.
- Without Nominalization: The police investigated the matter.
Often, the sentence with the nominalization sounds more official. But, there is no practical difference, and the sentence without the nominalization saves you three words (which may not seem like a lot but it’s close to a 50% decrease).
3.) Read it out loud. Yes, it takes time to go back through your writing. But as the saying goes, “an ounce of editing is worth a pound of having to correct yourself later.” By reading your writing out loud, you avoid some of the brain fatigue mistakes you will make if you skim back through silently.
Starters can save time and headache by structuring their writing and economizing their words. Picking up a high school grammar text might not hurt either.