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1. Passive voice is one of the biggest problems with government documents.  (From US National Archives and Records Administration Style Guide)
Active voice is the best way to identify who is responsible for what action.

In an active sentence, the person or organization that’s acting is the subject of the sentence. In a passive sentence, the person or item that is acted upon is the subject of the sentence. Passive voice obscures who is responsible for what and is one of the biggest problems with government documents.

2. A sentence is in the active voice if the subject performs the action expressed in the verb. For example:
The dog bit the boy. (Active voice)

The boy was bitten by the dog. (Passive voice)

3. Some US cases that were decided against parties that used the passive voice (from Mark Cooney, Michigan Bar Journal, June 2005)
Coroles v Sabey, 79 P3d 974, 981 (Utah App 2003)

Castro v Hastings, 74 Fed. Appx. 607, 609 (CA 7, 2003)

Zito v Leasecomm Corp, No. 02 Civ. 8074 (GEL), 2003 WL 22251352, at *10 (SD NY Sept 30, 2003)

In re MJB, 140 SW3d 643, 656 (Tenn App 2004)

United States v Wilson, 503 US 329, 334–35 (1992)

DaimlerChrysler Serv No Amer, LLC v State Tax Assessor, 817 A2d 862, 865 (Me 2003)

Arlington Educ Ass’n v Arlington School Dist No. 3, 34 P3d 1197, 1200 (Or App 2001)

4. Recent US cases that involved the issue of passive voice:
Pendergest-Holt et al v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyds of London, No. 10-200069 (5th Cir. March 15, 2010)

Sherley v. Sebelius No. 10-5287, slip op. at 2 (D.C. Cir. Apr. 29, 2011)

5. Reasons to use the active voice (articles from the Michigan Bar Journal):
Stay Active! (Part 1)
 
Stay Active! (Part 2)

6. Exercise: Locate the passive voice verbs in this example from the Civil Service Commission website. (Answer at the bottom of this page)
Historical Highlights

The civil service system in the Philippines was formally established under Public Law No. 5 ("An Act for the Establishment and Maintenance of Our Efficient and Honest Civil Service in the Philippine Island") in 1900 by the Second Philippine Commission. A Civil Service Board was created composed of a Chairman, a Secretary and a Chief Examiner. The Board administered civil service examinations and set standards for appointment in government service. It was reorganized into a Bureau in 1905.

The 1935 Philippine Constitution firmly established the merit system as the basis for employment in government. The following years also witnessed the expansion of the Bureau’s jurisdiction to include the three branches of government: the national government, local government and government corporations.

In 1959, Republic Act 2260, otherwise known as the Civil Service Law, was enacted. This was the first integral law on the Philippine bureaucracy, superseding the scattered administrative orders relative to government personnel administration issued since 1900. This Act converted the Bureau of Civil Service into the Civil Service Commission with department status.

In 1975, Presidential Decree No. 807 (The Civil Service Decree of the Philippines) redefined the role of the Commission as the central personnel agency of government. Its present mandate is derived from Article IX-B of the 1987 Constitution which was given effect through Book V of Executive Order No. 292 (The 1987 Administrative Code). The Code essentially reiterates existing principles and policies in the administration of the bureaucracy and recognizes, for the first time, the right of government employees to self-organization and collective negotiations under the framework of the 1987 Constitution.

7. Videos on active and passive voice

Active versus Passive Voice



Active and Passive Voice



Grammar Series - Active Voice vs Passive Voice



How to Eliminate Passive Voice From Your Writing



8. Answers to the exercise (passive voice shown in boldface):
Historical Highlights

The civil service system in the Philippines was formally established under Public Law No. 5 ("An Act for the Establishment and Maintenance of Our Efficient and Honest Civil Service in the Philippine Island") in 1900 by the Second Philippine Commission. A Civil Service Board was created composed of a Chairman, a Secretary and a Chief Examiner. The Board administered civil service examinations and set standards for appointment in government service. It was reorganized into a Bureau in 1905.

The 1935 Philippine Constitution firmly established the merit system as the basis for employment in government. The following years also witnessed the expansion of the Bureau’s jurisdiction to include the three branches of government: the national government, local government and government corporations.

In 1959, Republic Act 2260, otherwise known as the Civil Service Law, was enacted. This was the first integral law on the Philippine bureaucracy, superseding the scattered administrative orders relative to government personnel administration issued since 1900. This Act converted the Bureau of Civil Service into the Civil Service Commission with department status.

In 1975, Presidential Decree No. 807 (The Civil Service Decree of the Philippines) redefined the role of the Commission as the central personnel agency of government. Its present mandate is derived from Article IX-B of the 1987 Constitution which was given effect through Book V of Executive Order No. 292 (The 1987 Administrative Code). The Code essentially reiterates existing principles and policies in the administration of the bureaucracy and recognizes, for the first time, the right of government employees to self-organization and collective negotiations under the framework of the 1987 Constitution. 


Free seminars:

1. “English Proficiency Course” (4 hours; for college students, K-to-12 teachers, other groups)

2.“Clear, concise English for effective legal writing” (3-5 hours; for Student Councils, academic organizations, fraternities, sororities, NGOs, LGUs, any interested group; test yourself with the interactive exercises)

Seminars are for Metro Manila only. For more information or to schedule a seminar, please contact Atty. Gerry T. Galacio at 0927-798-3138.

Be a better writer or editor through StyleWriter 4: this software checks 10,000 words in 12 seconds for hundreds of style and English usage issues like wordy and complex sentences, passive voice, nominalization, jargon, clichés, readability, spelling, etc.

StyleWriter 4 graphs your style and sentence variety, and identifies your writing habits to give an instant view of your writing. You can learn to adjust your writing style to suit your audience and task. You can learn, for example, the writing style of Newsweek, Time, The Economist, and Scientific American.

StyleWriter 4 is widely used in the US federal government (for example, the Environmental Protection Agency). It can be used by educators, students, and professionals in various fields - business, law, social or physical science, medicine, nursing, engineering, public relations, human resources, journalism, accounting, etc. Download your free 14-day trial copy now.
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1. Prof. Richard Lanham of the UCLA Writing Center developed the Paramedic Method for revising wordy sentences. Here are the steps:
Step 1: Underline the prepositional phrases in the sentence.

Step 2: Circle the “to be” verbs (is, are, as, were)

Step 3: Place a box around nominalizations and identify the primary action.

Step 4: Write the nominalization/primary action into a single verb.

Step 5: Ask “Who what performs the action?” Then write the new base clause with the agent in the subject position.

Step 6: Keep the base clause near beginning of the sentence.

Step 7: Eliminate unnecessary words and phrases.

2. Videos

Write Well: Editing Sentences Using the Paramedic Method (Macalester College)



Help from Dr. Lanham



Richard Lanham - Revising Prose



Paramedic Method



Self-Editing (Paramedic Method)



The Paramedic Method



Free seminars:

1. “English Proficiency Course” (4 hours; for college students, K-to-12 teachers, other groups)

2. “Clear, concise English for effective legal writing” (3-5 hours; for Student Councils, academic organizations, fraternities, sororities, NGOs, LGUs, any interested group; test yourself with the interactive exercises)

Seminars are for Metro Manila only. For more information or to schedule a seminar, please contact Atty. Gerry T. Galacio at 0927-798-3138.

Be a better writer or editor through StyleWriter 4: this software checks 10,000 words in 12 seconds for hundreds of style and English usage issues like wordy and complex sentences, passive voice, nominalization, jargon, clichés, readability, spelling, etc.

StyleWriter 4 graphs your style and sentence variety, and identifies your writing habits to give an instant view of your writing. You can learn to adjust your writing style to suit your audience and task. You can learn, for example, the writing style of Newsweek, Time, The Economist, and Scientific American.

StyleWriter 4 is widely used in the US federal government (for example, the Environmental Protection Agency). It can be used by educators, students, and professionals in various fields - business, law, social or physical science, medicine, nursing, engineering, public relations, human resources, journalism, accounting, etc. Download your free 14-day trial copy now.
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1. “Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.” — “Elements of Style” by Strunk and White

2. “Short sentences are not an end by themselves. As legal writers, your goals are short and clear sentences.” As Napoleon Bonaparte emphasized to his runners who brought messages to his battlefield commanders, “Make it clear! Make it clear! Make it clear!”

3. “Techniques in creating clear, concise, and direct sentences” (The Writing Center, University Wisconsin – Madison):
  • Unless you have a reason not to, use the active voice. Put the action of the sentence in the verb. 
  • Reduce wordy verbs.
  • Use expletive constructions (“It is,” “There is,” “There are”) sparingly. 
  • Try to avoid using vague, all-purpose nouns, which often lead to wordiness. 
  • Unless your readers are familiar with your terminology, avoid writing strings of nouns. 
  • Eliminate unnecessary prepositional phrases.
  • Avoid unnecessarily inflated words. 
  • Put wordy phrases on a diet.

4. “Writing Concise Sentences” (from The Guide to Grammar and Writing, sponsored by the Capital Community College Foundation in Hartford, Connecticut)

5. “Identifying and addressing wordiness in sentences” (from The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
  • Eliminate redundant pairs
  • Delete unnecessary qualifiers
  • Identify and reduce prepositional phrases
  • Locate and delete unnecessary modifiers
  • Replace a phrase with a word
  • Identify negatives and change them to affirmatives

6. “How to Sculpt Concise Sentences (So Your Message Becomes Clear and Strong)”

7. Writing Concise Sentences



8. Lesson 16: Wordy Sentences



9. Keep it Simple: Clearer, Concise Sentences



Free seminars:

1. “English Proficiency Course” (4 hours; for college students, K-to-12 teachers, other groups)

2. “Clear, concise English for effective legal writing” (3-5 hours; for Student Councils, academic organizations, fraternities, sororities, NGOs, LGUs, any interested group; test yourself with the interactive exercises)

Seminars are for Metro Manila only. For more information or to schedule a seminar, please contact Atty. Gerry T. Galacio at 0927-798-3138.

Be a better writer or editor through StyleWriter 4: this software checks 10,000 words in 12 seconds for hundreds of style and English usage issues like wordy and complex sentences, passive voice, nominalization, jargon, clichés, readability, spelling, etc.

StyleWriter 4 graphs your style and sentence variety, and identifies your writing habits to give an instant view of your writing. You can learn to adjust your writing style to suit your audience and task. You can learn, for example, the writing style of Newsweek, Time, The Economist, and Scientific American.

StyleWriter 4 is widely used in the US federal government (for example, the Environmental Protection Agency). It can be used by educators, students, and professionals in various fields - business, law, social or physical science, medicine, nursing, engineering, public relations, human resources, journalism, accounting, etc. Download your free 14-day trial copy now.
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Recommended average number of words per sentence in legal documents:

15 words (Federal Register Document Drafting Handbook, October 1998 Revision, page 216)

Between 15 and 18 (“Plain English: Eschew Legalese” by Judge Gerald Lebovits, New York State Bar Association Journal, November/December 2008, page 60)

18 words (“Appellate Practice—Including Legal Writing From A Judge’s Perspective”, page 7, by Judge Mark P. Painter, the only American so far to be appointed to the UN Appellate Tribunal)

20 words or fewer (US Federal Aviation Administration “Writing Standards, Order 1000.36”)

20 words (“Legal Writing in Plain English” by Bryan A. Garner) 20 words (“How to write clearly” from European Commission)

20 to 25 words (“How to create clear announcements” Project on the Use of Plain Language, by Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission”)

20 to 25 words (“Tips for Better Writing in Law Reviews and Other Journals” by Joseph Kimble, Michigan Bar Journal, October 2012)

22 words (“Just Writing: Grammar, Punctuation, and Style for the Legal Writer” by Anne Enquist and Laurel Currie Oates)

25 words (“Mightier Than the Sword: Powerful Writing in the Legal Profession” by C. Edward Good)
(Jump to “The modern English sentence is short, averaging below 20 words per sentence”)

1. “After 14 years as a legal adviser to the Government, I had got into the habit of writing concisely and going straight to the point. I think I might have lost the knack to express myself in a literary style. Government minutes are written in plain English. Now, I try to use short sentences to capture all my ideas and arguments.” (Singapore Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong)

2. “Legal sentences tend to be long and flabby.” (Prof. Joseph Kimble, president, Thomas Cooley Law School, Michigan, USA; drafting consultant, Plain Language-restyling of the US Federal Rules of Court)

3. “The genius is having a ten-dollar idea in a five-cent sentence, not having a five-cent idea in a ten-dollar sentence.” (US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, in an interview with Bryan A. Garner, Scribes Journal of Legal Writing Volume 13)

4. “The more complicated your information is, the shorter your sentences should be.” (from “Writing to Win: The Legal Writer: The Complete Guide to Writing Strategies That Will Make Your Case—And Win It” by Steven D. Stark)


5. “Seeking to be precise, we become redundant. Seeking to be cautious, we become verbose. Our sentences twist on, phrase within clause, within clause, glazing the eyes and numbing the minds our readers. The result is a writing style that is wordy, unclear, pompous, and dull.” (“Plain English for Lawyers” by Richard Wydick, Professor Emeritus in Legal Writing at University of California - Davis; the National University of Singapore uses this book for its Legal Writing Programme.)

6. “Short sentences are a supreme advantage when communicating with people from a non-English speaking background. If you want your English to be understood worldwide—write short sentences. If you want to avoid embarrassing grammar mistakes and excruciating international misunderstandings—use short sentences. If you want your international clients to read your documents easily, confidently and accurately—use short sentences.” (“Global English for Global Business,” page 38, by Rachel McAlpine)

7. Examples of long sentences:

BSP Circular No. 702, protection of credit card holders from unfair collection practices (235 words in one sentence)

Banks/quasi-banks and their subsidiary or affiliate credit card companies shall also provide the following information to their cardholders:
1. A table of the applicable fees, penalties and interest rates on credit card transactions, including the period covered by and the manner of and reason for the imposition of such penalties, fees and interest; fees and applicable conversion reference rates for third currency transactions, in plain sight and language, on materials for marketing credit cards, such as brochures, flyers, primers and advertising materials, on credit card application forms, and on credit card billing statements: Provided, That these disclosures are in addition to the full disclosure of the fees, charges and interest rates in the terms and conditions of the credit card agreement found elsewhere on the application form and billing statement; and

2. A reminder to the card holder in the monthly billing statement, or its equivalent document, that payment of only the minimum amount due or any amount less than the total amount due for the billing cycle/period, would mean the imposition of interest and/or other charges; Provided, That such table of fees, penalties and interest rates and reminder shall be printed in plain language and in bold black letters against a light or white background, and using the minimum Arial 12 theme font and size, or its equivalent in readability, and on the first page, if the applicable document has more than one page. 

Senate impeachment rules (106 words in one sentence)
VI. The President of the Senate or the Chief Justice when presiding on the trial may rule on all questions of evidence including, but not limited to, questions of materiality, relevancy, competency or admissibility of evidence and incidental questions, which ruling shall stand as the judgment of the Senate, unless a Member of the Senate shall ask that a formal vote be taken thereon, in which case it shall be submitted to the Senate for decision after one contrary view is expressed; or the Presiding Officer may at his/her option, in the first instance, submit any such question to a vote of the Members of the Senate.


8. The modern English sentence is short, averaging below 20 words per sentence.

A. From “The Principles of readability” by William DuBay:

In 1880, a professor of English Literature at the University of Nebraska, Lucius Adelno Sherman, began to teach literature from a historical and statistical point of view.

He compared the older prose writers with more popular modern writers such as Macaulay (The History of England) and Ralph Waldo Emerson. He noticed a progressive shortening of sentences over time.

He decided to look at this statistically and began by counting average sentence length per 100 periods. In his book (1893), Analytics of Literature, A Manual for the Objective Study of English Prose and Poetry, he showed how sentence length averages shortened over time:

Pre-Elizabethan times: 50 words per sentence
Elizabethan times: 45 words per sentence
Victorian times: 29 words per sentence
Sherman’s time: 23 words per sentence.

In our time, the average is down to 20 words per sentence.

B.
Ellegard Norm: The modern English sentence has an average of 17.6 words per sentence. (From 1978 study by Swedish researcher Alvar Ellegard of 1 million words corpus of 20th century American English writing called the Brown Corpus collected by Brown University in 1964)

C. “What is Happening to Written English?”

Essentially, the sentence has become shorter – quite dramatically. In a study by Brock Haussamen (1994) using text from a variety of sources, the average sentence length was shown to have reduced from 40-70 in the period 1600-1700 to the low 20s in the 1990s.

Year 1600 - 1700: Sentence length 40 - 70 words
Year 1800 - 1900: Sentence length 30 - 40 words
Year 1990s: Sentence length 20s

D. Comparison of average sentence length of several writers

Jane Austen: 42
John Steinbeck: 18.4
D. H. Lawrence: 13.5

E.  “Editing Tip: Sentence Length”

" ... the average sentence length for Harry Potter author JK Rowling, who can be considered representative of a modern English writer with a general audience, is 12 words ..."

F.  “The long sentence: A disservice to science in the Internet age”

If we want the fullness of science in necessarily long papers to be appreciated, it must increasingly be written in short sentences.

Free seminars:

1. “English Proficiency Course” (4 hours; for college students, K-to-12 teachers, other groups)

2. “Clear, concise English for effective legal writing” (3-5 hours; for Student Councils, academic organizations, fraternities, sororities, NGOs, LGUs, any interested group; test yourself with the interactive exercises)

Seminars are for Metro Manila only. For more information or to schedule a seminar, please contact Atty. Gerry T. Galacio at 0927-798-3138.

Be a better writer or editor through StyleWriter 4: this software checks 10,000 words in 12 seconds for hundreds of style and English usage issues like wordy and complex sentences, passive voice, nominalization, jargon, clichés, readability, spelling, etc.

StyleWriter 4 graphs your style and sentence variety, and identifies your writing habits to give an instant view of your writing. You can learn to adjust your writing style to suit your audience and task. You can learn, for example, the writing style of Newsweek, Time, The Economist, and Scientific American.

StyleWriter 4 is widely used in the US federal government (for example, the Environmental Protection Agency). It can be used by educators, students, and professionals in various fields - business, law, social or physical science, medicine, nursing, engineering, public relations, human resources, journalism, accounting, etc. Download your free 14-day trial copy now.
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1. Thomas Jefferson: “The most valuable of talents is never using two words when one will do.”

2. George Orwell: “Never use a long word where a short one will do. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.”

3. “Write clearly and simply if you can, and you’ll be more likely to be thought of as intelligent.”

Prof. Daniel M. Oppenheimer of Princeton University published his study titled “Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity” in the 2006 Applied Cognitive Psychology Journal. Actually, the title (as I quoted it) is incomplete; Prof. Oppenheimer was having fun because the other half of his study’s title is “Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly.”

Oppenheimer surveyed 110 Stanford University students. Among other things, he asked them the following questions:
“Have you ever changed the words in an academic essay to make the essay sound more valid or intelligent by using complicated language?” 86.4% said yes.

“When you write an essay, do you turn to the thesaurus to choose words that are more complex to give the impression that the content is more valid or intelligent?” 75% said yes.
Among Oppenheimer’s findings are:
  • People are more likely to use big words when they are feeling the most insecure.
  • Leaders facing crucial decisions might use more complex vocabulary and end up undermining others’ confidence in their leadership ability.
  • Write clearly and simply if you can, and you’ll be more likely to be thought of as intelligent.
4. “Conciseness” or “concision” ordinarily means being brief but technically, it means being direct to the point. Your goal as a legal writer is to be concise and clear. Some ways to keep your text concise and clear are:
  • Use short, simple words (for example, use “needs” instead of “necessitates”)
  • Avoid big words and pompous diction (use “because” instead of “due to the fact that”)
  • Omit redundant words (use “”facts” instead of “actual facts”)
  • Avoid redundant pairs
  • Avoid redundant modifiers
  • Avoid modifiers such as absolutely, actually, completely, really, quite, totally, and very
  • Avoid doublets and triplets (use either word instead of “authorize and empower”)
  • Watch out for “of,” “to,” “on,’ and other prepositions
  • Avoid noun strings
  • Avoid legal, foreign, and technical jargon
  • Avoid hidden verbs or nominalization (say “I decided” instead of “I made a decision”)

5. Free resources:

“Plain English Lexicon” by Plain Language Commission

“The A to Z of alternative words” from Plain English Campaign

6. Being Concise in Your Writing (University of Glasgow)



7. Writing Clearly and Concisely (North Carolina State University)



8. Succinct Writing (University of British Columbia)



9. English Writing Workshop - Clear and Concise Sentences



10. Keep it Simple: Clearer, Concise Sentences



11. Make Your Writing Concise



12. Nine Ways to Use Clear, Simple Vocabulary to Sound More Professional in English



Free seminars:

1. “English Proficiency Course” (4 hours; for college students, K-to-12 teachers, other groups)

2. “Clear, concise English for effective legal writing” (3-5 hours; for Student Councils, academic organizations, fraternities, sororities, NGOs, LGUs, any interested group; test yourself with the interactive exercises)

Seminars are for Metro Manila only. For more information or to schedule a seminar, please contact Atty. Gerry T. Galacio at 0927-798-3138.

Be a better writer or editor through StyleWriter 4: this software checks 10,000 words in 12 seconds for hundreds of style and English usage issues like wordy and complex sentences, passive voice, nominalization, jargon, clichés, readability, spelling, etc.

StyleWriter 4 graphs your style and sentence variety, and identifies your writing habits to give an instant view of your writing. You can learn to adjust your writing style to suit your audience and task. You can learn, for example, the writing style of Newsweek, Time, The Economist, and Scientific American.

StyleWriter 4 is widely used in the US federal government (for example, the Environmental Protection Agency). It can be used by educators, students, and professionals in various fields - business, law, social or physical science, medicine, nursing, engineering, public relations, human resources, journalism, accounting, etc. Download your free 14-day trial copy now.
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Bryan A. Garner is the editor-in-chief of all current editions of Black’s Law Dictionary. In 2010, he interviewed the US Supreme Court Justices. The transcripts of these interviews are available from Scribes Journal of Legal Writing Volume 13; excerpts from the interviews are posted below.

Justice Clarence Thomas:
I’d love one day for someone at a gas station who is not a lawyer to come up to me and say to me, “You know, I read your opinion, and I don’t agree with you.” Wouldn’t that be wonderful? “I’m not a lawyer, I read your opinion, I understood it, I don’t agree with you, but thanks for making it accessible.” So we talk of it in terms of accessibility.

Justice Stephen Breyer (in reply to Garner’s question, “Do you think it matters whether ordinary people can understand judicial opinions?”):
If an ordinary person who is not a lawyer can understand it, I think that gives weight to what the Court does, and law is supposed to be intelligible. They should be able to follow it without having to take special vocabulary courses. And the purpose of an opinion is to give your reasons, and you give your reasons both for guidance, but also it should be possible for readers to criticize the writer. Now, people can’t criticize what I say, they can’t explain why they think it’s wrong, unless they can understand.

Chief Justice John Roberts on the topic of legal writing (interview by Garner)



A Crash Course in Legal Writing by Bryan A. Garner



Quick Tips on Oral Advocacy by Judge Richard Gabriel



How to Speak like a Veteran Lawyer in 11 minutes



2008 Davis Moot Court Winning Oral Argument



How to speak so that people want to listen | Julian Treasure



Free seminars:

1. “English Proficiency Course” (4 hours; for college students, K-to-12 teachers, other groups)

2. “Clear, concise English for effective legal writing” (3-5 hours; for Student Councils, academic organizations, fraternities, sororities, NGOs, LGUs, any interested group; test yourself with the interactive exercises)

Seminars are for Metro Manila only. For more information or to schedule a seminar, please contact Atty. Gerry T. Galacio at 0927-798-3138.

Be a better writer or editor through StyleWriter 4: this software checks 10,000 words in 12 seconds for hundreds of style and English usage issues like wordy and complex sentences, passive voice, nominalization, jargon, clichés, readability, spelling, etc.

StyleWriter 4 graphs your style and sentence variety, and identifies your writing habits to give an instant view of your writing. You can learn to adjust your writing style to suit your audience and task. You can learn, for example, the writing style of Newsweek, Time, The Economist, and Scientific American.

StyleWriter 4 is widely used in the US federal government (for example, the Environmental Protection Agency). It can be used by educators, students, and professionals in various fields - business, law, social or physical science, medicine, nursing, engineering, public relations, human resources, journalism, accounting, etc. Download your free 14-day trial copy now.
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1. Webinar: “Drafting in Plain Language - Leaving Legalese Behind” (National Conference of State Legislatures)



2. Lawyers, Stop Writing (and Saying) These Things Immediately by Brendan Kenny

Lawyers persist in using clumsy language even when it makes us less persuasive to our intended audience. Maybe that is because we believe or fear that words mean things when they really don’t. This may be a superstition, but it is a superstition that all the arguments in the world in favor of plain language will not overcome.

3. Will Rogers, famous American comedian, on the way lawyers write:
The minute you read something and you can’t understand it, you can almost be sure that it was drawn up by a lawyer.

Then if you give it to another lawyer to read and he doesn’t know just what it means, why then you can be sure it was drawn up by a lawyer.

If it’s in a few words and is plain and understandable only one way, it was written by a non-lawyer.
Some of you may be offended by what Rogers said and say that he was just a comedian having fun at the expense of lawyers. But did you know that you can find Rogers’ statue inside the building of the US Congress?

4. “The Decline and Fall of Gobbledygook: Report on Plain Language Documentation” (1990) by the Canadian Bar Association and Canadian Bankers Association Joint Committee Report:
“Legalese is a style of writing used by lawyers that is incomprehensible to ordinary readers.”

5. “Plain English for Lawyers” by Richard Wydick (Professor Emeritus of Law at the University of California - Davis; he has also lectured at the International Legislative Drafting Institute presented in New Orleans by the Public Law Center, a joint venture of Tulane and Loyola law schools):
We lawyers cannot write plain English. We use eight words to say what could be said in two. We use old, arcane phrases to express commonplace ideas.

Seeking to be precise, we become redundant. Seeking to be cautious, we become verbose. Our sentences twist on, phrase within clause, within clause, glazing the eyes and numbing the minds our readers. The result is a writing style that is wordy, unclear, pompous, and dull.
6. Elements of legalese, by Prof. David Mellinkoff from his book “Legal Writing: Sense and Nonsense” (1982):
  • Formalisms, such as comes now
  • Archaic words, such as hereby
  • Redundancies, such as each and every
  • Latin words, such as per curiam
7. “Lifting the Fog of Legalese,” by Prof. Joseph Kimble, president, Thomas M. Cooley Law School, Michigan, USA; Burton Awards for “Reform in Law” Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (2007) and Federal Rules of Evidence (2011):
Legal sentences tend to be long and flabby.
More generally, legal writing tends to be poorly organized and poorly formatted. And in its effort to be precise and exhaustive, it becomes excessively detailed and too often sinks into redundancy, ambiguity, and error.
The result is legalese — a form of prose so jumbled, dense, verbose, and overloaded that it confuses and frustrates most everyday readers and even many lawyers.
8. “Legalese violates nearly every principle of good writing” by Mark S. Mathewson, Director of Legal Publishing for the Illinois State Bar Association (Michigan Bar Journal January 2003)

9. “Plain English: Eschew Legalese” by Judge Gerald Lebovits (faculty member of Columbia University - Law School, Fordham University School of Law, and New York University School of Law)

10. US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on accessibility (from Bryan Garner’s interviews, Scribes Journal of Legal Writing Volume 13):
I’d love one day for someone at a gas station who is not a lawyer to come up to me and say to me, “You know, I read your opinion, and I don’t agree with you.” Wouldn’t that be wonderful? “I’m not a lawyer, I read your opinion, I understood it, I don’t agree with you, but thanks for making it accessible.” So we talk of it in terms of accessibility.
11. Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong, third Chief Justice of the Republic of Singapore:
I noticed one difference in myself from having been Attorney-General for 14 years. I am not able to write and express myself in the same way as I did 15 years ago. I read one of the judgments I wrote 15 years ago and thought I couldn’t write in that way today. After 14 years as a legal adviser to the Government, I had got into the habit of writing concisely and going straight to the point. I think I might have lost the knack to express myself in a literary style. Government minutes are written in plain English. Now, I try to use short sentences to capture all my ideas and arguments. I can’t go back to my old style, and I am not sure that going back to it is right. I think that Court of Appeal judgments should be expressed in language that a reasonably-educated layman can understand.

Free seminars:

1. “English Proficiency Course” (4 hours; for college students, K-to-12 teachers, other groups)

2. “Clear, concise English for effective legal writing” (3-5 hours; for Student Councils, academic organizations, fraternities, sororities, NGOs, LGUs, any interested group; test yourself with the interactive exercises)

Seminars are for Metro Manila only. For more information or to schedule a seminar, please contact Atty. Gerry T. Galacio at 0927-798-3138.

Be a better writer or editor through StyleWriter 4: this software checks 10,000 words in 12 seconds for hundreds of style and English usage issues like wordy and complex sentences, passive voice, nominalization, jargon, clichés, readability, spelling, etc.

StyleWriter 4 graphs your style and sentence variety, and identifies your writing habits to give an instant view of your writing. You can learn to adjust your writing style to suit your audience and task. You can learn, for example, the writing style of Newsweek, Time, The Economist, and Scientific American.

StyleWriter 4 is widely used in the US federal government (for example, the Environmental Protection Agency). It can be used by educators, students, and professionals in various fields - business, law, social or physical science, medicine, nursing, engineering, public relations, human resources, journalism, accounting, etc. Download your free 14-day trial copy now.
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Warren Buffett is an American investor, industrialist, and philanthropist. He was ranked as the world’s richest person in 2008 and as the third richest in 2011. In the preface to the US SEC Plain English Handbook (1988), Buffett wrote:
For more than forty years, I’ve studied the documents that public companies file. Too often, I’ve been unable to decipher just what is being said or, worse yet, had to conclude that nothing was being said. If corporate lawyers and their clients follow the advice in this handbook, my life is going to become much easier.
There are several possible explanations as to why I and others sometimes stumble over an accounting note or indenture description. Maybe we simply don’t have the technical knowledge to grasp what the writer wishes to convey. Or perhaps the writer doesn’t understand what he or she is talking about. In some cases, moreover, I suspect that a less-than scrupulous issuer doesn’t want us to understand a subject it feels legally obligated to touch upon.
Perhaps the most common problem, however, is that a well-intentioned and informed writer simply fails to get the message across to an intelligent, interested reader. In that case, stilted jargon and complex constructions are usually the villains.
Write with a specific person in mind. When writing Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report, I pretend that I’m talking to my sisters. I have no trouble picturing them: Though highly intelligent, they are not experts in accounting or finance. They will understand plain English, but jargon may puzzle them. My goal is simply to give them the information I would wish them to supply me if our positions were reversed. To succeed, I don’t need to be Shakespeare; I must, though, have a sincere desire to inform. (boldfacing supplied)

When the US SEC was crafting its Plain English guidelines for disclosure documents, its then chairman Arthur Levitt asked Buffett to rewrite the following paragraph into Plain English:

Original paragraphBuffett’s Plain English revision
Maturity and duration management decisions are made in the context of the average maturity orientation for each Fund, as set forth in the Prospectus. The maturity structure of each Portfolio is adjusted in anticipation of cyclical interest rate changes. Such adjustments are not made in an effort to capture short-term, day-to-day movements in the market, but instead are implement-ed in anticipation of longer term, secular shifts in the levels of interest rates (i.e., shifts transcending and/or not inherent to the business cycle). We will try to profit by correctly predicting future interest rates. When we have no strong opinion, we will generally hold intermediate-term bonds. But when we expect a major and sustained increase in rates, we will concentrate on short-term issues. And, conversely, if we expect a major shift to lower rates, we will buy long bonds. We will focus on the big picture and won’t make moves based on short-term considerations.

Relevant links:

1. What’s Warren Buffett's Secret to Great Writing? by Lawrence A. Cunningham. George Washington University Law School

2. Five Ways to Write Like Warren Buffett - Legal Writing Pro

3. How To Write Like Warren Buffett -- Or Not (Forbes)

4. Three ways to write like Warren Buffett (Management Today)

5. The 5 Greatest Letters Warren Buffett Has Ever Written (Business Insider)

6. How Warren Buffett approaches writing Berkshire Hathaway’s letter to shareholders (CNBC)



Free seminars:

1. “English Proficiency Course” (4 hours; for college students, K-to-12 teachers, other groups)

2. “Clear, concise English for effective legal writing” (3-5 hours; for Student Councils, academic organizations, fraternities, sororities, NGOs, LGUs, any interested group; test yourself with the interactive exercises)

Seminars are for Metro Manila only. For more information or to schedule a seminar, please contact Atty. Gerry T. Galacio at 0927-798-3138.

Be a better writer or editor through StyleWriter 4: this software checks 10,000 words in 12 seconds for hundreds of style and English usage issues like wordy and complex sentences, passive voice, nominalization, jargon, clichés, readability, spelling, etc.

StyleWriter 4 graphs your style and sentence variety, and identifies your writing habits to give an instant view of your writing. You can learn to adjust your writing style to suit your audience and task. You can learn, for example, the writing style of Newsweek, Time, The Economist, and Scientific American.

StyleWriter 4 is widely used in the US federal government (for example, the Environmental Protection Agency). It can be used by educators, students, and professionals in various fields - business, law, social or physical science, medicine, nursing, engineering, public relations, human resources, journalism, accounting, etc. Download your free 14-day trial copy now.
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Plain Language summary

Case title:Maria Virginia V. Remo vs. The Honorable Secretary of Foreign Affairs,” G.R. No. 169202, March 5, 2010

Ruling:

A married woman is not prohibited from continuously using her maiden name once she is married. When a woman marries, she does not change her name but only her civil status.

RA 8239 does not prohibit a married woman from using her maiden name in her passport. The DFA allows a married woman who applies for a passport for the first time to use her maiden name. She is not required to adopt her husband's surname.

But once a married woman uses her married name in her passport, she cannot be allowed to change her family name at will. This prohibition prevents confusion and inconsistency in the records of passport holders.

Relevant laws:

1. Republic Act No. 8239 or the Philippine Passport Act of 1996

2. Article 370 of the New Civil Code of the Philippines (law on surnames for married women)
(Related discussion: “Miss, Ms, or Mrs? Philippine law on surnames for married women”)

Background facts:
1. Maria Virginia V. Remo is a Filipino citizen married to Francisco R. Rallonza. The following entries appear in her passport: “Rallonza” as her surname, “Maria Virginia” as her given name, and “Remo” as her middle name.

Virginia’s passport was due to expire on October 27, 2000. She applied for her passport’s renewal with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) office in Chicago, Illinois, USA. She also requested that her maiden name and surname be used in the replacement passport.

2. The DFA office in Chicago and later on DFA Sec. Domingo Siason denied Virginia’s request.

DFA Sec. Siason, through an undersecretary, stated:

This Office is cognizant of the provision in the law that it is not obligatory for a married woman to use her husband’s name. Use of maiden name is allowed in passport application only if the married name has not been used in previous application. The Implementing Rules and Regulations for Philippine Passport Act of 1996 clearly defines the conditions when a woman applicant may revert to her maiden name, that is, only in cases of annulment of marriage, divorce and death of the husband. Ms. Remo’s case does not meet any of these conditions.

3. Virginia appealed to the Office of the President but her appeal was denied. The OP stated:

Section 5(d) of Republic Act No. 8239 (RA 8239) or the Philippine Passport Act of 1996 “offers no leeway for any other interpretation than that only in case of divorce, annulment, or declaration [of nullity] of marriage may a married woman revert to her maiden name for passport purposes.”

4. Virginia then filed a petition for review of the OP’s decision with Court of Appeals. The CA denied the petition, stating:

  • Virginia’s marriage to Francisco Rallonza has not been annulled or declared void. A divorce decree has also not been granted to them.
  • Virgina cannot therefore simply revert to her maiden name in the replacement passport after she had adopted her husband’s surname in her old passport.

Virginia subsequently filed a petition for review of the CA’s ruling with the Supreme Court. She claimed that no law prohibits her from using her maiden name and that Section 5(d) of RA 8239 conflicts with Article 370 of the New Civil Code of the Philippines (NCC).

Issue
Should Virginia be allowed to use her maiden surname in the replacement passport?

Supreme Court ruling
1. “A married woman has an option, but not a duty, to use the surname of the husband in any of the ways provided by Article 370 NCC. She is therefore allowed to use not only any of the three names provided in Article 370, but also her maiden name upon marriage.”

“A married woman is not prohibited from continuously using her maiden name once she is married. When a woman marries, she does not change her name but only her civil status.”

2. The law governing passport issuance is RA 8239. Section 5(d) “limits the instances when a married woman may be allowed to revert to the use of her maiden name in her passport.” These instances are death of husband, divorce decree, annulment or nullity of marriage.

Article 370 of the Civil Code and Section 5(d) of RA 8239 do not conflict with one another. RA 8239, including its implementing rules and regulations, does not prohibit a married woman from using her maiden name in her passport. In fact, in recognition of this right, the DFA allows a married woman who applies for a passport for the first time to use her maiden name. Such an applicant is not required to adopt her husband's surname.

3. Virginia “would not have encountered any problems in the replacement passport had she opted to continuously and consistently use her maiden name from the moment she was married and from the time she first applied for a Philippine passport.”

4. If Virginia’s request to use her maiden surname in the replacement passport is granted, “nothing prevents her in the future from requesting to revert to the use of her husband’s surname.”

“Unjustified changes in one’s name and identity in a passport cannot be allowed. Undue confusion and inconsistency in the records of passport holders will arise.”

For passport issuance purposes, a married woman whose marriage is subsisting, may not change her family name at will.
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Poor grammar compounds the problem of bad legal writing among Filipinos. One media report claims that “many graduates from our top universities have English language skills comparable only to 2nd grade children from Western countries.” As a law student, bar examinee, or legal writer, you must master the rules of English grammar.

1. The Internet offers thousands of free resources on English grammar. Some of the best resources are:

Better English for everyone

Activities for ESL Students

Capital Community College Guide to Good Grammar

OWL English Purdue Grammar, Punctuation, Spelling. Sentence Structure, and other exercises

Daily Writing Tips (Grammar 101 and Grammar)

The Simple Secrets Of Writing & Speaking (Almost) Like A Professional” College Edition by Philip Yaffe (free PDF, 144 pages, 483 kb), from Plain Language Commission

Interactive English grammar and vocabulary exercises based on Korean historical dramas (with time limit and automatic scoring): These exercises are designed for Asians who are beginning learners of English. If you’re already an advanced learner of English, you can also use these exercises to refresh your knowledge. Thus, the exercises focus on errors in grammar that Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos, Malaysians, Indonesians, etc. commonly make with articles, prepositions, gender pronouns, tenses, and subject-verb agreement, among others.

2. Free resources from the New York State Bar Journal: articles by Judge Gerald Lebovits (faculty member of Columbia University - Law School, Fordham University School of Law, and New York University School of Law)
If I Were a Lawyer: Tense in Legal Writing
Do’s, Don’ts, and Maybes: Legal Writing Grammar - Part I

Do’s, Don’ts, and Maybes: Legal Writing Grammar - Part II

3. 15 Grammar Goofs That Make You Look Silly [Infographic] from Copyblogger.com

Click the picture above to view or download
the complete infographic from Copyblogger (600 by 5327 px; 0.98 MB)



Free seminars:

1. “English Proficiency Course” (4 hours; for college students, K-to-12 teachers, other groups)

2. “Clear, concise English for effective legal writing” (3-5 hours; for Student Councils, academic organizations, fraternities, sororities, NGOs, LGUs, any interested group; test yourself with the interactive exercises)

Seminars are for Metro Manila only. For more information or to schedule a seminar, please contact Atty. Gerry T. Galacio at 0927-798-3138.

Be a better writer or editor through StyleWriter 4: this software checks 10,000 words in 12 seconds for hundreds of style and English usage issues like wordy and complex sentences, passive voice, nominalization, jargon, clichés, readability, spelling, etc.

StyleWriter 4 graphs your style and sentence variety, and identifies your writing habits to give an instant view of your writing. You can learn to adjust your writing style to suit your audience and task. You can learn, for example, the writing style of Newsweek, Time, The Economist, and Scientific American.

StyleWriter 4 is widely used in the US federal government (for example, the Environmental Protection Agency). It can be used by educators, students, and professionals in various fields - business, law, social or physical science, medicine, nursing, engineering, public relations, human resources, journalism, accounting, etc. Download your free 14-day trial copy now.
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