Many people start writing before they know what they want to say—even before they know precisely what they hope to achieve. The result is typically flabby, disorganized, verbose prose.
The best way to produce good writing is to follow a procedure. Until you have lots of experience and self-knowledge as a writer, you can benefit from others’ proven techniques. This prewriting checklist summarizes the wisdom of numerous writers, editors, and teachers of composition. Try it for any major piece of writing.
- Classify the writing as being primarily: informative (status letters, etc.); analytical (memos, reports, etc.); persuasive (briefs, motions, etc.); or rule-establishing (contracts, regulations, statutes, etc.).
- Define why you’re writing the piece—the precise result you seek.
- Classify your intended or probable readers by age, education, occupation, reading habits, etc.
- Identify all applicable specifications (court rules, client requirements, etc.).
- Determine the desired length.
- Establish deadlines for each stage of the writing project.
- Collect all the relevant data you can, remembering to try Google Books in addition to your usual legal-research methods. Take notes systematically.
- Draft an outline.
Now you’re ready to start writing in earnest. Try this checklist: no. 7 may take more time than all the others added together. But you’ll probably produce better work in less time than you normally would. Among other benefits, you’ll find that the checklist helps forestall problems with writer’s block.
If you’d like to have Professor Garner personally coach you through the beginning phases of a writing project—to show you precisely how to get good results—sign up for our online Advanced Legal Writing & Editing course.
Garner, The Winning Brief 3–45 (3d ed. 2014).
Antonin Scalia & Bryan A. Garner, Making Your Case 5–11, 69–80 (2008).
Garner, Legal Writing in Plain English 7–16 (2d ed. 2013).