LawProse Lesson #295: Shifts in Voice.

LawProse Lesson #295: Shifts in Voice.

Unheralded shifts in voice are a common fault in quoting, as when the writer quotes a first-person reference (direct discourse) within a third-person passage (indirect discourse). Here’s a clear example of direct discourse: “The judge declared: ‘I see no genuine issues of material fact.'” And here’s indirect discourse: “The judge declared that she saw no genuine issues of material fact.” To erroneously mix the two styles is to write: “The judge declared that ‘I see no genuine issues of material fact.'” The conjunction that suggests that what follows will be indirect discourse, but then the judge is directly quoted. Hence there’s a mixing of indirect and direct discourse within a single sentence. It’s a common technique in general-interest prose, but it can present problems of clarity in legal writing. The cure is to use either of the two correct forms appearing at the end of the first paragraph. Problems most commonly arise when quoting a witness (direct discourse). If you’re going to do that, you must set up the quotation properly, without using the speaker’s pronouns unless you’ve introduced the quotation to stand apart from your own syntax: NOT THIS: Williams then testified that “I’ve never even been to that neighborhood.” BUT THIS: Williams then testified that she had “never even been to that neighborhood.” OR THIS: Williams then testified: “I’ve never even been to that neighborhood.” OR, MORE FORMALLY: Williams then testified as follows: “I’ve never even been to that neighborhood.” Remember: don’t use the conjunction that to quote another’s statement, weaving it into your own syntax, if the statement contains pronouns inappropriate to you as the writer. SOURCES: Garner, The Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation 98–99, 428 (2016). Garner, The Elements of Legal Style 85–86 (2d ed. 2002).

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