LawProse Lesson #337: You are what you write.

LawProse Lesson #337: You are what you write.

We recently saw a cartoon in which one character says to another, “I’m thinking of writing a book.” The other responds, “Can a boring person write an interesting book?”

The answer is a resounding no.

A boring person can’t write an interesting book. An unintelligent person can’t write an intelligent letter. A mean-spirited person can’t write an uplifting e-mail message—probably not even insincerely.

That’s why Bertrand Russell, the philosopher, said: “A style is not good unless it is an intimate and almost involuntary expression of the personality of the writer, and then only if the writer’s personality is worth expressing.”

You don’t just give your readers what you think or what you know: you give them yourself. What you write is very much a product of you: it reflects who you are and how your mind operates.

That’s why any course in writing is really a course in self-improvement.

Ask yourself some questions while you’re writing. These come from Bryan Garner’s book HBR Guide to Better Business Writing:
● What am I trying to say?
● Is what I’m saying true?
● What’s the very best way to say it?

Once you’ve written, ask yourself these questions:
● Have I gotten quickly to my point?
● Can I revise this to make it shorter?
● Can I say it more interestingly?
● Have I proved my points with specifics?
● Does it sound like me at my best—throughout?
● Have I been diplomatic and fair?
● Have I been utterly truthful?

If you’re conscious of these questions, you’ll write better. You’ll probably even be better.

Whatever kind of writer you might be, you’ll do better work.

If you’re a lawyer or a judge, then you need continuing legal education in writing. So go to We have what we think is the finest suite available of online instruction for legal writers. Check out our fall seminar schedule for Advanced Legal Writing and Editing.

And remember: You are what you write. Every time you write, you’re declaring what kind of person you are.

Further reading:
Garner, HBR Guide to Better Business Writing (2012).

Live seminars this year with Professor Bryan A. Garner: Advanced Legal Writing & Editing

Attend the most popular CLE seminar of all time. More than 215,000 people—including lawyers, judges, law clerks, and paralegals—have benefited since the early 1990s. You'll learn the keys to professional writing and acquire no-nonsense techniques to make your letters, memos, and briefs more powerful.

You'll also learn what doesn't work and why—know-how gathered through Professor Garner's unique experience in training lawyers at the country's top law firms, state and federal courts, government agencies, and Fortune 500 companies.

Professor Garner gives you the keys to make the most of your writing aptitude—in letters, memos, briefs, and more. The seminar covers five essential skills for persuasive writing:

  • framing issues that arrest the readers' attention;
  • cutting wordiness that wastes readers' time;
  • using transitions deftly to make your argument flow;
  • quoting authority more effectively; and
  • tackling your writing projects more efficiently.

He teaches dozens of techniques that make a big difference. Most important, he shows you what doesn't work—and why—and how to cultivate skillfulness.

Register to reserve your spot today.

Have you wanted to bring Professor Garner to teach your group? Contact us at for more information about in-house seminars.

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