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Write short sentences

Express only one idea in each sentence. Long, complicated sentences often mean that you aren’t sure about what you want to say. Shorter sentences are also better for conveying complex information; they break the information up into smaller, easier-to-process units.

Sentences loaded with dependent clauses and exceptions confuse the audience by losing the main point in a forest of words. Resist the temptation to put everything in one sentence; break up your idea into its parts and make each one the subject of its own sentence.

  • Before

    Once the candidate’s goals are established, one or more potential employers are identified. A preliminary proposal for presentation to the employer is developed. The proposal is presented to an employer who agrees to negotiate an individualized job that meets the employment needs of the applicant and real business needs of the employer.

  • After

    Once we establish your goals, we identify one or more potential employers. We prepare a preliminary proposal to present to an employer who agrees to negotiate a job that meets both his and your employment needs.

Complexity is the greatest enemy of clear communication. You may need to be especially inventive to translate complicated provisions into more manageable language. In the following example, we have made an “if” clause into a separate sentence. By beginning the first sentence with “suppose” (that is, “if”) and the second sentence with “in this case” (that is, “then”) we have preserved the relationship between the two.

  • Before

    If you take less than your entitled share of production for any month, but you pay royalties on the full volume of your entitled share in accordance with the provisions of this section, you will owe no additional royalty for that lease for prior periods when you later take more than your entitled share to balance your account. This also applies when the other participants pay you money to balance your account.

  • After

    Suppose that one month you pay royalties on your full share of production but take less than your entitled share. In this case, you may balance your account in one of the following ways without having to pay more royalty. You may either:

    • Take more than your entitled share in the future; or
    • Accept payment from other participants

Sources

  • Charrow, Veda R., Erhardt, Myra K. and Charrow, Robert P., Clear & Effective Legal Writing, 4th edition, 2007, Aspen Publishers, New York, NY, pp. 163-165.
  • Garner, Bryan A., Legal Writing in Plain English, 2001, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp. 19-21.
  • Kimble, Joseph, Guiding Principles for Restyling the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Part 1), September 2005, Michigan Bar Journal, pp. 56-57.
  • Kimble, Joseph, Lifting the Fog of Legalese, 2006, Carolina Academic Press, Durham, NC, p. 96.
  • Murawski, Thomas A., Writing Readable Regulations, 1999, Carolina Academic Press Durham, NC, p. 77.
  • Office of the Federal Register, Document Drafting Handbook, 1998, MMR-5.
  • Redish, Janice C., How to Write Regulations and Other Legal Documents in Clear English, 1991, American Institutes for Research, Washington, DC, pp. 29-32.
  • Securities and Exchange Commission, Plain English Handbook, 1998, Washington, DC, p. 28.