LawProse Lesson #188: A few additional editing tips.
A few additional editing tips. In our last two lessons, we explained the LawProse editing method in general (Lesson #186), and we recommended changing be-verbs to action verbs (Lesson #187). Before we give you a full passage to edit on your own (next week!), you should find these last three tips helpful. 1. Remove zombie nouns from your writing. A zombie noun—also called a buried verb or nominalization—is a noun formed from a verb by adding a suffix, usually –tion, –sion, –ment, –ence, –ance, or –ity. Here are some examples, with the verb in parentheses: admission (admit), allegation (allege), conformity (conform), enforcement (enforce), performance (perform), settlement (settle), and violation (violate). Using the verb instead of the noun will make your writing crisper and more powerful. Each revised example below is less abstract, more concrete. Not this: Wilson’s allegation is that Telco Company did not take the risks under consideration before marketing the product. But this: Wilson alleges that Telco Company did not consider the risks before marketing the product. Not this: The county has stopped the issuance of permits until 2015. But this: The county has stopped issuing permits until 2015. 2. Cut unnecessary prepositional phrases. Notice the first example above: by removing the zombie noun (consideration) and replacing it with the verb (consider), you’ve also eliminated a preposition (under). Prepositional phrases bog down your writing, especially phrases beginning with of. Scrutinize every of and try to cut it. It won’t take long to get in the habit, and you’ll develop a leaner writing style. Not this: In the brief of the Defendant, Allison contends that delays on the part of Tollesby hindered production of the categories of documents identified in the request by Smith. But this: In her brief, Allison contends that Tollesby’s delays hindered her producing the document categories Smith requested. 3. Stop interjecting throat-clearing phrases. Legal writing is full of phrases that merely make noise before saying something substantive. For example: It is important to remember . . . It should be noted that . . . It must also be borne in mind that . . . As William Zinsser put it: “[H]ow many sentences begin with these dreary clauses announcing what the writer is going to do next? . . . Being told that something is interesting is the surest way of tempting the reader to find it dull . . . .” On Writing Well 16–17 (5th ed. 1994). Not this: It is important to note at the outset that all parties signed the agreement on the same day. But this: First, all parties signed the agreement on the same day. Focusing on these three tips alone will slash unnecessary words and tighten your prose. Once you start to recognize these weaknesses in your own writing, you’ll find it easier to enliven your prose. Next week: What you’ve been waiting for—an exercise to test your editing skills! Further reading (with many more editing tips and examples): The Winning Brief 264–75, 279–82 (3d ed. 2014). Legal Writing in Plain English 50–55 (2d ed. 2013).