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

§ 3. Order your material in a logical sequence. Use chronology when presenting facts. Keep related material together.



Improve the sequence of ideas in the following sentence. Start like this: "In March 2000, Gilbert Spaulding applied to the Workforce Commission for extended unemployment benefits." Then use one or two extra sentences.

  • The lower court did not err by affirming the Workforce Commission's denial of Spaulding's request for extended unemployment benefits, since those benefits were not available during the period for which he sought eligibility.

Improve the sequence and phrasing of ideas in these sentences, perhaps by breaking them into separate sentences:

  • The state supreme court reversed the intermediate appellate court's affirmance of a summary judgment granted to Pilsen Corporation, the plaintiff, which had only requested a partial summary judgment on the discrete issue of fraud.
  • The issue is whether Davis Energy has granted its neighbors an easement to use a private road that enters a Davis fuel-storage yard, when for three years Davis has had a guard at the road's entrance but has posted no other notice about private property or permission to enter, and for seven years the owners of adjacent property have used the road to reach their own property.
  • The Plaintiff Los Angeles Dodgers, a corporation with offices and its principal office in Los Angeles, California, is the owner of a professional baseball team that, since 1958, has played baseball in Los Angeles, California, and before 1958 played baseball in Brooklyn, New York, under the name “the Brooklyn Dodgers,” but in that year moved the site of its home games from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.


Rewrite the following passages to reassemble the elements in chronological order. Again, you might need to break one or more sentences into separate sentences.

  • This action arose out of a request by Pan-American to cancel its surety bond posted with the Land Reclamation Commission to ensure reclamation on a portion of the Prelancia Fuels mine site. The Commission filed a petition for declaratory judgment and application for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction on February 16, 1996, to determine whether Pan-American could lawfully cancel its surety bond. Pan-American made its request after legislation had been passed that, according to Pan-American, would increase its liability under the bonds. The trial judge disagreed with Pan-American. At the request of the Commission, after a brief evidentiary hearing, a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction were granted on February 16, 1996, preventing Pan-American from canceling the bond at issue until final judgment on the declaratory-judgment action.
  • In Sinclair, the court awarded the niece of Sinclair a constructive trust. Sinclair's niece was suing Purdy's estate for one-half interest in property that she claimed her uncle owned and had promised to bequeath to her in exchange for caring for him until his death. The court observed that the property was purchased in his sister's name. This was done for business purposes and because he and his sister shared a close relationship. There was also an agreement between the siblings that the sister would be allowed to keep only half the property. The court ruled that withholding the property from the niece would be a breach of promise; hence, a constructive trust was awarded in favor of the niece.
  • Kathcart filed the instant patent application on April 11, 2000, more than one year after he filed counterpart applications in Greece and Spain on November 21, 1998. Kathcart initially filed an application in the U.S. on November 22, 1997, claiming most of the same compounds as in the instant application. When he filed abroad, however, in 1998, he expanded his claims to include certain ester derivatives of the originally claimed compounds. It is the claims to these esters, which Kathcart has made the subject of a subsequent continuation-in-part application, the application now before the court, that are the issue here. Both foreign patents issued prior to the instant application in the U.S., the Greek patent on October 2, 1999, and the Spanish patent on January 21, 1985.


Find a published case in which the presentation of the facts is marred by disruptions in chronology. Write a short explanation specifying why the unchronological narrative was difficult for you to read. Rewrite the factual statement as best you can, omitting irrelevant facts and putting in brackets any facts you might want to add (but weren't given in the case itself). If you belong to a writing group or class, bring a copy of your before-and-after versions 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