The University of Chicago Press,
Exercises from LEGAL WRITING IN PLAIN ENGLISH, Bryan A. Garner

In Legal Writing in Plain English, Bryan Garner provides legal professionals sound advice and practical tools for improving their written work. It teaches legal writers how to organize ideas, create and refine prose, and improve editing skills. In essence, it teaches straight thinking--a skill inseparable from good writing.

Legal Writing in Plain English includes

  • Tips on generating thoughts, organizing them, and creating outlines
  • Sound advice on expressing your ideas clearly and powerfully
  • Dozens of real-life writing examples to illustrate writing problems and solutions
  • Exercises to reinforce principles of good writing
  • Helpful guidance on page layout
  • A punctuation guide that shows the correct uses of every punctuation mark
  • Model legal documents that demonstrate the power of plain English

The exercises from Legal Writing in Plain English are organized under fifty principles. Click on the principle to go to its exercise page.

§ 1Have something to say--and think it through.
§ 2For maximal efficiency, plan your writing projects. Try nonlinear outlining.
§ 3Order your material in a logical sequence. Use chronology when presenting facts. Keep related material together.
§ 4Divide the document into sections, and divide sections into smaller parts as needed. Use informative headings for the sections and subsections.
§ 5Omit needless words.
§ 6Keep your average sentence length to about 20 words.
§ 7Keep the subject, the verb, and the object together--toward the beginning of the sentence.
§ 8Prefer the active voice over the passive.
§ 9Use parallel phrasing for parallel ideas.
§ 10Avoid multiple negatives.
§ 11End sentences emphatically.
§ 12Learn to detest simplifiable jargon.
§ 13Use strong, precise verbs. Minimize is, are, was, and were.
§ 14Turn -ion words into verbs when you can.
§ 15Simplify wordy phrases. Watch out for of.
§ 16Avoid doublets and triplets.
§ 17Refer to people and companies by name.
§ 18Don't habitually use parenthetical shorthand names. Use them only when you really need them.
§ 19Shun newfangled acronyms.
§ 20Make everything you write speakable.
§ 21Plan all three parts: the beginning, the middle, and the end.
§ 22Use the "deep issue" to spill the beans on the first page.
§ 23Summarize. Don't overparticularize.
§ 24Introduce each paragraph with a topic sentence.
§ 25Bridge between paragraphs.
§ 26Vary the length of your paragraphs, but generally keep them short.
§ 27Provide signposts along the way.
§ 28Unclutter the text by moving citations into footnotes.
§ 29Weave quotations deftly into your narrative.
§ 30Be forthright in dealing with counterarguments.
§ 31Draft for an ordinary reader, not for a mythical judge who might someday review the document.
§ 32Organize provisions in order of descending importance.
§ 33Minimize definitions. If you have more than just a few, put them in a schedule at the end--not at the beginning.
§ 34Break down enumerations into parallel provisions. Put every list of subparts at the end of the sentence--never at the beginning or in the middle.
§ 35Delete every shall.
§ 36Don't use provisos.
§ 37Replace and/or wherever it appears.
§ 38Prefer the singular over the plural.
§ 39Prefer numerals, not words, to denote amounts. Avoid word-numeral doublets.
§ 40If you don't understand a form provision--or don't understand why it should be included in your document--try diligently to gain that understanding. If you still can't understand it, cut it.
§ 41Use a readable typeface.
§ 42Create ample white space--and use it meaningfully.
§ 43Highlight ideas with attention-getters such as bullets.
§ 44Don't use all capitals, and avoid initial capitals.
§ 45For a long document, make a table of contents.
§ 46Embrace constructive criticism.
§ 47Edit yourself systematically.
§ 48Learn how to find reliable answers to questions of grammar and usage.
§ 49Habitually gauge your own readerly likes and dislikes, as well as those of other readers.
§ 50Remember that good writing makes the reader's job easy; bad writing makes it hard.

Click here to download all fifty exercises in a single ASCII text file.

© 2001, Bryan A. Garner

These exercises appear in Bryan A. Garner's Legal Writing in Plain English: A Text with Exercises, published by The University of Chicago Press and available at bookstores and on the Web at

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