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How can I write for LIV Young Lawyers publications? Part 2

How can I write for LIV Young Lawyers publications? Part 2

By Adam Wakeling

Young Persons 


Writing for the LIV Young Lawyers publications is a great way to develop your skills and get your name out there in the profession, here’s a few more tips on how to get started from our 2017 Editorial Committee co-chair, Adam Wakeling. Part one of this blog looked at background and structure when writing for the Young Lawyers Journal and the Young Lawyers Blog, which you can read here. This second part looks at style. Style Do write in short sentences: Lawyers are trained to be precise, but this drive towards extreme precision can hinder clear writing. Commonly it manifests itself in sentences with too many commas (or too many asides in brackets). You write something, realise there is something else you need to mention, put it in between two commas, realise you need to say something else, and before you know it, your sentence has five commas. This can lead to garden-path sentences, where the reader has forgotten how the sentence started by the time they get to the end. In extreme cases, ambitious writers can end up mixing commas and semicolons to create sentences as complex as chemical equations. Treat commas like carbs – a few are fine (even necessary for a balanced diet) but using too many will make your writing overweight. It is better to use shorter sentences with one or two commas. And while the bracket and the semicolon are both useful, know when to use them and don’t use them too frequently. Do use simple language: Fill your short, direct sentences with clear, simple words. Don’t be afraid of plain English words of Anglo-Saxon origin. It is fine to say “stop” instead of “discontinue” or “terminate”. It is also OK to use different words to avoid repeating the same one, but don’t be the writer who has a thesaurus but no dictionary – not every word with a similar meaning will be suitable in every situation. Grammar should also be clear as well. Generally prefer the active voice over the passive (“the court ruled…” over “it was ruled by the court…”) as this leads to shorter and simpler sentences. Don’t rely on clichés: Orwell’s most controversial rule is his first one: “Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print”. In writing, it’s common to use old figures of speech as prefabricated components of sentences, like between a rock and a hard place, the other side of the coin and take the wind out of the sails. Orwell tells us to avoid them. While never using such a figure of speech is probably overkill (“overkill” itself being an example) it’s important to be careful with them in case you end up writing a stream of clichés. This is a particular problem when you don’t think about what the figure of speech actually means. For example, in one popular novel a character is “learning the ropes in the trenches”, something that doesn’t make sense if you try to envision it. You don’t want a potpourri of mixed metaphors! Where possible, think of original and apt ways of expressing ideas, and make sure they make sense if you try to picture them. Don’t show off how much technical jargon you know: Some writers are tempted to show off their erudition by seasoning their article with a sprinkling of technical words and phrases from Greek, Latin or French. Obviously some terms, like mens rea, will be familiar to most lawyers and law students. But in general, use ordinary English, and if it is necessary to use a technical term, define it. Your readers won’t be happy if you send them scrambling to Google Translate or The Concise Australian Legal Dictionary just to get through your article. Know your jargon when you do use it: Using technical or foreign terms becomes even more of a problem where you get the jargon wrong. I once read an article in a current affairs journal which confused the French expression je ne sais quoi (“I don’t know what”) with the Latin expression sine qua non (“nothing without this”). It was obvious from the mistake that the writer was familiar with neither French nor Latin, as they would have realised that the term they were using didn’t make sense in the context. In this case, they would have been much better off expressing the same idea in plain English. Don’t stick to outdated rules: I have had peer reviewers tell me I cannot start my sentences with “but”, or I must replace “they” with “he or she” when writing about a single person. These are based on old grammar rules – you cannot start a sentence with a conjunction, and you cannot use “they”, “their” or “them” as a singular pronoun. In reality, there is nothing wrong with starting a sentence with a conjunction like “and” or “but”, and the singular “they” has precedent going back to Jane Austen and Shakespeare. Conclusion There is both an art and a science to good writing – like music, cooking and many other pursuits where people pursue mastery of some sort. The artistic side can only been learned through experience, but the scientific one is based on simple rules and sound principles. As you read good prose and practice your own writing, your skills will improve. And over time, you will know when to follow the rules and when to break them. Adam Wakeling was the 2016 and 2017 Co-Chair of the YL Editorial Committee. His first book, The Last Fifty Miles: Australia and the End of the Great War, was published by Penguin in 2016. If you are interested in writing for the Young Lawyers Journal, submissions are now open for the ‘learning and development’ themed edition. Information for authors is available here. Submissions close on 12 January 2018.

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