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

§ 26. Vary the length of your paragraphs, but generally keep them short.



In published legal writing, find a three- or four-page example of nicely varied paragraph lengths. Identify something specific that you like about the passage. If you belong to a writing group or class, bring a copy for each colleague and be prepared to discuss your example.


Break down each of the following passages so that it contains three to five separate paragraphs. Find the best places for starting new paragraphs.

  • When the courts of equity created the equity of redemption, they ignored the parties' explicit intention. They allowed the mortgagor to regain the property by performing the secured obligation after the legal title to the property had vested absolutely in the mortgagee. This vesting took place according to both the parties' express language in the mortgage deed and the effect that the law courts gave the language. After their original intervention, equity courts developed the doctrine prohibiting the clogging of the mortgagor's equity of redemption. Under this doctrine, even though the mortgage is in default, no agreement contained in the mortgage can cut off a recalcitrant mortgagor's equity of redemption without the resort to foreclosure by the mortgagee. Courts won't enforce a mortgagee's attempts to have the mortgagor waive the right to be foreclosed in the event of a default. The prohibition against clogging has been characterized by a variety of labels. The most common characterization associated with the doctrine in the United States is "once a mortgage, always a mortgage." This is only another way of saying that a mortgage can't be made irredeemable. The clogging doctrine, as a corollary of the equity of redemption, prevented evasion by ingenious and determined mortgagees. These mortgagees had tried using many types of clauses that, while recognizing the existence of the equity of redemption, nullified or restricted its practical operation.
  • Before an intelligent study of criminal law can be undertaken, it is necessary to focus on the single characteristic that differentiates it from civil law. This characteristic is punishment. Generally, in a civil suit, the basic questions are (1) how much, if at all, defendant has injured plaintiff, and (2) what remedy or remedies, if any, are appropriate to compensate plaintiff for his loss. In a criminal case, on the other hand, the questions are (1) to what extent, if at all, defendant has injured society, and (2) what sentence, if any, is necessary to punish defendant for his transgressions. Since the criminal law seeks to punish rather than to compensate, there should be something about each course of conduct defined as criminal that renders mere compensation to the victim inadequate. This follows from the truism that no human being should be made to suffer if such suffering cannot be justified by a concomitant gain to society. No rational assessment of the kinds of activity that should be punished can be undertaken without some analysis of the purposes of punishment. Those purposes most frequently mentioned are reformation, restraint, retribution, and deterrence.
  • Declaratory remedies furnish an authoritative and reliable statement of the parties' rights. Other remedies may be added if necessary, but the declaratory remedy itself makes no award of damages, restitution, or injunction. The chief problem in obtaining declaratory relief lies in the rules of justiciability--rules that courts will not issue advisory opinions, decide moot cases or those that are not ripe, or deal in any dispute that does not count as a case or controversy. Although people might settle legal arguments between themselves by going to the law library or calling the librarian, they cannot call on the courts this way. These concerns grow out of procedural and process values. They involve what we think about the nature of courts and judicial work. Before declaratory-judgment statutes were enacted, plaintiffs obtained relief that was sometimes essentially declaratory by suing for injunctive relief, or to quiet title to land, or to rescind a contract. When the declaratory judgment performs an analogous function, the case is justiciable and such relief is appropriate. Yet it is not possible to describe adequately all the instances in which these concerns will prevent declaratory relief. Declaratory relief is often useful in contract disputes. A good example is the dispute over liability-insurance coverage. The insured tortfeasor, the insurer, and the injured victim all need to know whether insurance covers the claim. When the insurer insists that it does not cover the claim and the others insist that it does, declaratory judgment is a good resolution.


In published legal writing, find an example of grossly overlong paragraphs. Suggest the natural points for additional paragraph breaks. If you belong to a writing group or class, bring a copy with your paragraph markings for each colleague.

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© 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