ABA Journal

Bryan Garner on Words

84 ABA Journal Bryan Garner on Words articles.

Strive for clarity and context in emails that address legal questions

There’s a widespread problem in the way junior lawyers answer questions by email. They tend to respond to moderately complex legal questions merely with answers—without explicitly repeating the question.

Can a town be a museum? A case may hinge on the precision of definitions

Does the usual meaning of a word carry over to a legal definition? The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on this question in a case involving sports hero Jim Thorpe.

Every lawyer a lexicographer: Defining words with clarity, brevity and practicality

Lawyers are constantly creating definitions, seemingly to a greater extent as time goes by. These definitions appear mostly in transactional practice (contracts, wills, etc.) but also in legislative and regulatory work (statutes and rules)—and even in briefs.

Booking the Dumpster: The tragedy of ‘deaccessioning’ books from university libraries

Book research shouldn’t be superseded by online research. Yet university libraries are unloading millions of unread volumes.

Law review editors missed a few, so we have this usage skills quiz for you

Law review editors do their best to comply with prevailing literary usage. In this quiz, the language hasn’t yet come close to accepting the “incorrect” choices as standard written English.

The incoherence of Serjeant Arabin, champion of judicial illogic

A look back at the nonsensical pronouncements from Sir Robert Megarry’s character William St. Julien Arabin, the all-time champion of judicial illogic.

George Campbell on eloquence, analogies and how to handle a hostile audience

“Eloquence is the art or talent by which the discourse is adapted to its end. All the ends of speaking are reducible to four: every speech being intended to enlighten the understanding, to please the imagination, to move the passions, or to influence the will.”

Writing vs. Good Writing: Make the languorous doldrums of reading disappear

“All styles are good,” Voltaire said, “except that which bores.” The good writer, in other words, frets a little about piquing the reader’s interest sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph—never descending into unremittingly dull stretches. The French even have a word for those dull stretches: longueurs.

How to start a sentence

Many writers mistakenly think it’s the beginning: They begin a disproportionate number of sentences with the grammatical subject, and they rarely depart from the subject-verb-object pattern. Boring legal writers create paragraphs of sentence after sentence beginning with a client’s or litigant’s name; interesting writers, by contrast, spice their prose with syntactic variety.

Of lists and tabs: Transforming transactional drafts to make sense

What’s the single most important sentence-level reform in transactional drafting? It’s a seemingly simple idea that would require massive retraining of lawyers. Here’s the proposition: With few exceptions, every list in a contract or other transactional instrument should be set off and indented (with a hanging indent, mind you).

Eye for Errors: Test your skills at editorial triage

Take the Editor’s Quiz: Give these briefs a minimalist edit—confining yourself to outright errors. In each sentence that follows, find one or more glaring errors and one or more venial errors.

Garner: Pro Tips on Speech Prep

You’ve been asked to give a speech. If you’re well-versed in the subject, you may think you can wing it. Don’t try.

How architecture affects communication during meetings

Design decisions subliminally influence people’s experience at work—even their job satisfaction. The relative success or failure of meetings, whether with clients, colleagues or outside speakers, depends in part on how the space makes people feel.

Learn the fundamentals of writing first—experiment later

It’s often said that you must know the rules before you break them. But why is that, exactly?

The Principle of End Weight: Creating sentences with emphasis

Let’s investigate a little-known secret of style.

Quick: What’s the most emphatic part of a sentence? Many legal writers don’t know, and this explains why many are so poor at phrasing.

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