LawProse Lesson #304: Quotations: Be succinct.
Last week, we discussed the “cleaned-up” quotation. Continuing our series on quotations, we should look at how—and why—to be as concise as possible. Effective legal writers make every quotation as succinct as possible, ruthlessly omitting everything but the pith of what’s needed. Quotations play mere supporting roles in your argument, even if they’re from the highest authority. If you quote too much, as many do, your readers will notice and start skimming them. To make your quotations most effective, follow these three tips for making them succinct. First, avoid overlong quotations. It’s not uncommon to see legal writers using block quotations that occupy nearly a full page. Few readers will slog through them. Instead, those long quotations should be broken up and accurately summarized, giving only the essentials for present purposes. Second, blend the quotations into your text. Your prose will sound better and more natural if you embed quotations in your sentences without formal introduction. Weave them into your own prose. That way, you own them. Not this: Rule 1015 of the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure states as follows: “Prior to entering an order the court shall give consideration to protecting creditors of different estates against potential conflicts of interest.” Fed. R. Bankr. P. 1015. But this: Before a court orders joint administration of bankruptcy estates, the court must “give consideration to protecting creditors of different estates against potential conflicts of interest.” Fed. R. Bankr. P. 1015. Third, avoid the source’s transitional words. Many quotations, when pulled from their context, have context-specific transitional words within them that make no sense in the newly made passage. You must excise them—even if you’re generally averse to ellipsis dots. If you don’t, you’ll have a brutally distracting non sequitur. Not this: The threat of poaching is a major incentive for companies to enforce noncompete agreements, as Edward H. Pappas has noted: “Alternatively, noncompete enforcement may be particularly critical because the employee’s new employer has been raiding the client company.” (The word alternatively has no place in this quotation.) But this: Poaching creates a major incentive for companies to enforce noncompete agreements, as Edward H. Pappas has noted: “[N]oncompete enforcement may be particularly critical because the employee’s new employer has been raiding the client company.” Quotations should be used to buttress or illustrate a point but almost never to supply it wholesale. Most of the prose on every page should be your own—not somebody else’s. Quote lightly, but enough to show that you’re accurately conveying the legal rules and caselaw. This technique requires artistry in weaving quoted matter into your own prose.