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

§ 6. Keep your average sentence length to about 20 words.



Break each of the following long sentences into at least three separate sentences:

  • Appellee Allied Indemnity of New York respectfully suggests that oral argument would be of little benefit because the dispositive issue has been recently authoritatively decided by the Texas Supreme Court in National Union Fire Insurance Co. v. CBI Industries, Inc., 907 S.W.2d 517 (Tex. 1995), and by this Court in Constitution State Insurance Co. v. Iso-Tex, Inc., 61 F.3d 405 (5th Cir. 1995), because the facts and legal arguments are adequately presented in the briefs and record, and because the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument. [91 words]
  • Although no Kansas cases were found that explicitly hold that Kansas requires a corporation to have a valid business purpose in order to engage in certain specified corporate transactions, either for mergers or consolidations, or for a sale of assets followed by a dissolution and liquidation, in a 1994 Supreme Court of Kansas case involving a cash-out merger where the dissenters claimed the defendant's board of directors breached its fiduciary duties to the dissenters, the court cited as one of the trial court's pertinent conclusions of law that it is not necessary for a corporation to show a valid corporate purpose for eliminating stockholders. [105 words]
  • The court of appeals noted that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had already issued the applicant a National Pollution Elimination System permit for the actual discharge of wastewater, which would occur from the outfall pipe, and that the issuance and conditions of such permits were generally exempt under the Clean Water Act from compliance with the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) requirement, and accordingly the court concluded that the Corps had properly excluded the environmental implications of the discharges from the outfall pipe from its analysis and instead considered only the construction and maintenance of the pipeline itself in determining that the issuance of the permit did not constitute a major federal action. [112 words]


Rewrite the following passages to make the average sentence length under 20 words:

  • At best, the lack of precise rules as to the treatment of routine corporate transactions forces investors and others who seek to understand accounting statements in all of their complex fullness to wade through pages of qualifying footnotes, the effect of which is often to express serious doubts about the meaningfulness and accuracy of the figures to which the accountants are attesting. Equally bad, while the footnotes, carefully read and digested, may enable the sophisticated analyst to arrive at a reasonably accurate understanding of the underlying economic reality, the comparison of figures published by one firm with those of any other is bound to result in seriously misleading distortions. Indeed, the figures for any given company may not be comparable from one year to the next, for although auditing standards require that the principles used by a firm must be "consistently applied" from year to year, the "presumption" of consistency may be overcome where the enterprise justifies the use of an alternative acceptable accounting principle on the basis that it is preferable. [Average sentence length: 57 words]
  • It follows that in order for Wisconsin to compel school attendance beyond the eighth grade against a claim that such attendance interferes with the practice of a legitimate religious belief, it must appear either that the State does not deny the free exercise of religious belief by its requirement, or that there is a state interest of sufficient magnitude to override the interest claiming protection under the Free Exercise Clause. Long before there was general acknowledgment of the need for universal formal education, the Religion Clauses had specifically and firmly fixed the right to free exercise of religious beliefs, and buttressing this fundamental right was an equally firm, even if less explicit, prohibition against the establishment of any religion by government. The values underlying these two provisions relating to religion have been zealously protected, sometimes even at the expense of other interests of admittedly high social importance. The invalidation of financial aid to parochial schools by government grants for a salary subsidy for teachers is but one example of the extent to which courts have gone in this regard, notwithstanding that such aid programs were legislatively determined to be in the public interest and the service of sound educational policy by states and by Congress. [Average sentence length: 51 words]
  • Some time subsequent thereto defendant, Brian Dailey, picked up a lightly built wood-and-canvas lawn chair that was then and there located in the back yard of the above described premises, moved it sideways a few feet and seated himself therein, at which time he discovered that the plaintiff, Ruth Garratt, was about to sit down at the place where the lawn chair had formerly been, at which time he hurriedly got up from the chair and attempted to move it toward Ruth Garratt to aid her in sitting down in the chair, whereupon, due to the defendant's small size and lack of dexterity, he was unable to get the lawn chair under the plaintiff in time to prevent her from falling to the ground. [Average sentence length: 126 words]
  • Since it is undisputed that the sugar was stolen, and that it was purchased by Johnson, the question at issue for jury determination is the state of Johnson's mind when he purchased it. While the jury is unauthorized to convict unless it finds that Johnson himself had guilty knowledge, such knowledge may be proved by circumstances here to warrant the conclusion that Johnson, when he purchased the sugar, knew it to have been stolen, and did not in fact honestly believe that the sellers were sugar dealers or were properly authorized by the Ralston Mill to sell sugar for it. In arriving at this conclusion, the jury might have considered the time and arrangements for the purchases, statements of Johnson to Gordon showing that he knew that he was taking a risk, the absence of any invoice or regular billing procedure, the contradictory statements of Johnson after his arrest, and the unlikelihood of the sellers' having come into possession of such large quantities of sugar to be sold below wholesale price in a legal manner. [Average sentence length: 58 words]


Find a published piece of legal writing in which the average sentence length exceeds 40 words. Rewrite it to make the average under 20.

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