LawProse Lesson #245: Whatever doesn’t help positively hurts.

LawProse Lesson #245: Whatever doesn’t help positively hurts.

Often you’ll find yourself trying to decide whether to include something in expository prose—an extra argument, another illustration, a brief aside, an interesting tangent, etc. The sage wisdom of ancient rhetoricians is to omit everything that doesn’t have some demonstrable benefit. You can see this principle as a form of utilitarianism: include only what is most persuasive or most informative to the greatest number of your readers. You mar your piece by including any sentence or paragraph that doesn’t meet this standard. Why? Because everything on the page draws on an all-too-finite resource: the reader’s attention. So beware. Further reading: Antonin Scalia & Bryan A. Garner, Making Your Case 22–23 (2008). Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage 925 (3d ed. 2011) (s.v. verbosity).

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