I got an email from one of the younger partners the other day and, frankly, I couldn’t figure it out: “snicker77: why not? @fiddle @sweaterneck @sideways = Curmudgeon?”
Upon investigation, I learned that he had pasted a “tweet” into an email for me, since he knows I don’t use Twitter and wouldn’t otherwise receive it. I resisted the urge to reply “Tweet incomprehensible, to wit, you twit!”
This got me thinking about how technology has changed our writing—and maybe the way we think. I can handle the changes in style—we don’t need the convoluted drivel we used to put in our letters and opinions. But what worries me is the shift in how we think. I’ve heard, for example, that kids reading online tend to lose focus because they are constantly chasing links that take them away from what they were originally reading.
Back in the day, we wrote in an iterative style on a yellow legal pad, outlining in pencil and annotating for salient points. Next we scribbled out a rough draft, erased, marked through and cut-and-pasted sections for our secretary to type. Then we reviewed it, repeated the above process—then back it went to the secretary for retyping and to our paralegal for review before it was converted into a final draft. It was proofread again before the final typing and received a final blessing before it was sent off into the world.
Today, I can knock out most documents by dumping my thoughts into the computer in a format that looks complete. The spell-checker handles proofing and editing—AutoCorrect does wonders—and voila! It’s fast, pretty and doesn’t require much thought. But just because it looks good doesn’t always mean it is good.
Yes, the old yellow pad process was hard, slow work, but it made you think about what you were doing and why, and forced you to focus on exactly what you needed to say.
So how do we insert a bit more thought into our writing process without adding back the old nonsense? Try this out:
- Determine why you are writing at all. What is the goal of the document—to persuade, document the facts or arguments, or communicate ideas?
- Pick the form of the document that matches your purpose.
- Figure out the key things you want to convey. What’s the point?
- Find the supporting information you need to make the points.
- Organize an outline, even if it is only in your head.
- Skip the formatting and self-editing and write it all down (or dictate—whatever is comfortable) in rough draft form.
- Clean it up, add formatting and do the editing, then read it again objectively.
- Depending on how important it is, ask someone else to review it.
- Finalize or approve it.
- Send it.
That’s not so hard, but it does require some structure, thought and effort. Good writing is work. Bad writing is easy—any twit can do it.
Otto Sorts has been reading law since before Martindale met Hubbell. Of Counsel at a large corporate firm that prefers to remain anonymous, Otto is a respected attorney and champion of the grand tradition of the law. He is, however, suspicious of “new-fangled” management ideas and anyone who calls the profession the legal “industry.” When he gets really cranky about something he blogs at HeyYouKidsGetOffMyLaw.