The only thing in life that’s rocket science…is rocket science. So writing well is not rocket science.
I posted a video yesterday of me riding bumpily to my next meeting in a bicycle taxi on a sweltering afternoon in London. I was on a high: I’d just helped some lawyers transform their writing in one of my rhetorica® workshops. Not only did their writing improve, but their whole demeanour, energy and body language changed. One of them said they’d re-discovered their mojo through the energy of the words they’d used.
Here are the five things one of the delegates and I did to take what was already an adequate piece of legal advice to an excellent one:
1. Added sub-headings to emphasise the structure, eg showing the reader that the answer to their question was right at the front, not buried in the middle or relegated to the end.
2. Introduced the memo stating that what followed was their legal opinion. This obviated the need to repeat the phrase ‘In our view’ a zillion times.
3. Omitted other needless words and phrases, eg ‘For the avoidance of doubt’: if your writing is clear, this is redundant! eg replaced ‘It is usually the case that…’ with ‘Usually…’
4. Made the language less formal and more ‘human’, eg rather than say ‘elected to sue them’, said ‘chose to sue them’; replaced ‘Furthermore’ with ‘And’ or ‘What’s more’ (you CAN start a sentence with And, by the way, despite what you had drummed into you at school).
5. Removed hackneyed sign-offs, like ‘Please get back to me if you require any further information’ — as if a client wouldn’t do that if they wanted clarification! Cliche’d greetings and sign-offs indicate a lazy and/or unconfident writer.
Like I said — writing is not rocket science. Nor is it a black art or an innate gift. It’s a learnable skill.