9 Steps to Better Writing for Paralegals… et al.

All professions require an element of articulation whether done verbally or in writing. Paralegals especially need to develop their communication skills if they are to find success in the legal profession. Here are some writing tips provided by Center for Advanced Legal Studies.

THINK. Before you type even one letter, be sure you have a clear idea of what you want to say. Vocalize your objective out loud and be as specific as you can: “I want this employer to see that I am perfect for the job,” or “This client must understand the decision that came out of the meeting.” The better you can articulate your objective, the easier it will be to write down, and the more effective the writing will be.

MAKE A PLAN. If you have clearly understood your objective, you should be able to come up with reasons that support it or points that clarify it. This includes the grounds that convince a prospective employer that you are the best candidate for the job — your ability to memorize every word you read, or your can-do attitude that will make it impossible for you to leave work any time before 8:30 pm, for example. The more specific the illustrations and the clearer they are to you, the easier they will be to develop in writing.

WRITE. Now that you have your objectives firmly in your mind, get your thoughts down on paper or on the screen. It is always easier to edit writing, rather than come up with something new, so just try to get words out as a starting point. Don’t worry too much about sentence structure, spelling and grammar, or the nuances of fine creative writing, just get started and put some words together.

REVIEW FOR CONTENT. Go back to Step 1 and re-state your objective. Now read what you have just written.  Does it say what you want it to say? Don’t worry about how pretty the language is; just make sure the ideas are in place. Review the support that you considered in Step 2. Is it all there? Is it listed in an order that makes sense?

CONSIDER THE BEGINNING AND THE ENDING. No one will read a piece of work if the beginning doesn’t lure him in, so make sure that you begin strongly. Stating your objective is an effective way to do that. Also, the final sentences will be the last impression in the reader’s mind. Make sure your words are powerful enough so that she remembers them. You can even re-state the objective if you say it in a new way.

AVOID REPETITION. Look for words that show up again and again. Is there another way to say them? Use your thesaurus to help. If you do have to repeat words, make sure there is some distance between them. Sometimes, it’s necessary to say the same word over and over, like my use of the word, ‘word.’ If that’s the case, it’s probably better to just use the word, rather than come up with cumbersome synonyms, like ‘jewels of wisdom,’ ‘elements of language,’ ‘sentence building blocks,’  which, as you can see, can get out of hand and become distracting.

READ THE DOCUMENT ALOUD. This will help you fine tune the sentence structure. When you listen to what you’ve written, you can often hear mistakes like sentence fragments or run-on sentences that you might have missed in the writing. A sentence should sound complete and express only one main idea. Make sure your sentences are grammatically sound. You can even have other people read and edit your work if you are unsure about this. Also, grammar check is a wonderful tool.

READ IT BACKWARDS. This takes all context away from each individual word and makes spelling errors leap off the page. And use spell check. Nothing says “I don’t really know what I’m doing” more than spelling or grammar errors.

BE UNIQUE. We are all bombarded with the written word copiously. You will need to stand out. And purple Wingdings as a font choice is not the way. Consider replacing clichés like ‘leap off the page’ with something fresh and original, like ‘stand out like goose bumps in the arctic.’ Make a list of 9 rather than the usual and boring 10. Be yourself and let your rareness shine through your words.

SOURCE: Paralegal.edu, Ms. Joy Oden teaches English Comprehension at Center for Advanced Legal Studies

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