LawProse Lesson 349: A Key to Phrasing Sentences

LawProse Lesson 349: A Key to Phrasing Sentences

Many legal writers are oblivious of an important secret of style: in wording a sentence, an emphatic word or phrase should fall at the end. Next time a piece of writing bores you, examine it closely. The writer is probably ending sentences with mundane information or arcana. That’s deathly.

Consider two brief passages:

● Reynolds’s termination rights are expressly conditioned on Midwest Metallics’ failure to meet requirements established pursuant to OGL § 543.691(A)(1)(c). Midwest Metallics cannot add a series of implied “good faith” preconditions to the Sales Agreement previously entered into by the parties.

● Reynolds’s termination rights are conditioned expressly—and solely—on Midwest’s failing to meet commitments in two seminal documents: the environmental report and the cleanup work plan. (OGL § 543.691(A)(1)(c).) Midwest Metallics cannot now rewrite the Sales Agreement to import other conditions.

Admittedly, the second is cleaned up in other respects. But mostly, the improvements result from considering each sentence’s caboose.

Remember these guidelines: (1) Don’t end a sentence with a citation if you can possibly avoid it. (2) Don’t end a sentence with a date unless the date is crucial. (3) Don’t end with a client’s name unless it comes as a surprise. (4) Never end with a qualifying phrase such as in many circumstancesgenerally speaking, or the like—unless it’s a warning like this one. In short, avoid ending sentences with banalities.

Further reading:

The Winning Brief 296–306 (3d ed. 2014).
Legal Writing in Plain English 41–43 (2d ed. 2013).
The Elements of Legal Style 66 (2d ed. 2002).
Garner’s Modern English Usage 815–16 (4th ed. 2016).

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