September 29, 2019

THE MOST VALUABLE LESSON THEY TEACH YOU IN LEGAL WRITING...:

The Whistle-Blower Knows How to Write: His complaint offers lessons on how to make a point. (Jane Rosenzweig, Sept. 27, 2019, NY Times)

I can't tell you what's going to happen to his blockbuster complaint about the president's behavior, but I can tell you that the whistle-blower's college writing instructor would be very proud of him.

As a writing instructor myself for 20 years, I look at the complaint and see a model of clear writing that offers important lessons for aspiring writers. Here are a few:

The whistle-blower gets right to the point.

We know right away what his purpose is and why we should care. He wastes no time on background or pleasantries before stating that he is writing to report "an 'urgent' concern." And then he immediately states it:

"In the course of my official duties, I have received information from multiple U.S. Government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election."

The whistle-blower uses subheadings to make sure we can connect the dots.

Most subheadings don't do much to enhance a document. The whistle-blower's subheadings do what the best subheadings do: They structure the complaint and provide a clear outline of what the document contains:

I. The 25 July Presidential phone call

II. Efforts to restrict access to records related to the call

III. Ongoing concerns

IV. Circumstances leading up to the 25 July Presidential phone call

The bonus of good subheadings is that they serve as a guide for writing the rest of the document. Even if you're writing something less formal, you can use subheadings to organize your document and then remove them before you share it.

The whistle-blower gets an A for his topic sentences.

Strong persuasive or expository writing features topic sentences that tell the reader what to focus on.

...is that you ought not assume anyone is going to read what you write, not even those whose job it is to do so.  That's why the opening sentence has to state the case and the closing one should really just restate it. This is how a good lawyer would write an appeal.

Posted by at September 29, 2019 8:39 AM

  

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