An Estrin Education, Inc. Company
Redefining Continuing Legal Education

June, 2014

3 Neat Little Tricks to Improve Your Writing
     If you're like most paralegals, you can write a decent email. Working with attorneys, you need to have halfway decent writing skills to succeed. But if you don't have time to work on those skills, mastering a few basic rules can make a big difference in how you are perceived.   

     Maybe you've never had to write an email where leadership was a critical issue. Or, maybe you've never had to send the most-important-communication-ever to your boss. Maybe you haven't had to write a progress report to an important client. If so, skip on over to another article.  For most of us, writing is an essential part of our jobs. Our careers rely on whether we can write well. Unfortunately, we're not always as effective as we can be.  

Here are 3 simple things you can do to instantly improve your writing:

1.   Repeating words in the same sentence or paragraph.

       Bad practice: Repeated words or phrases set up an echo in the reader's head or a "Didn't I just read that?" glitch that is distracting. Example:
  • Several "but"s or "however"s or "for example"s in one paragraph (or in nearly every paragraph); a series of paragraphs that begin with "Next"
  • A favorite crutch word or phrase used throughout an article ("ensure that," "as such", "that said")
Best practice: Vary the language. Even better, get rid of the repeated verbiage, which turns out to be overkill anyway.

2.  Referring to companies, organizations, etc., as "they"

Bad practice: A company -- or any collective group that's being referred to as a single entity -- is often treated as plural, but it shouldn't be. Example:
  • I wish Costco would get their parking lot fixed.
  • Apple said they'll look at the problem.
 Best practice: Unless there's some compelling exception, use "it."

3. Using "which" instead of "that"

Bad practice: We sometimes use "which" to set off an essential clause (instead of "that").Examples:
  • The meeting which was scheduled for 1:00 has been cancelled.
  • The option which controls this feature is disabled.
Best practice: The commonly-accepted (haha) convention in American English is to set off a nonessential clause with the word "which" and a comma. One good test is whether the information is extra -- not essential to the meaning of the sentence. If the clause is essential, use "that."


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