Good Writing Habits

We are one week away from Chinese New Year. I thought this would be a good time to stay away from heavier technical topics and present a lighter article instead on good writing habits.

A lawyer cannot escape from having to read and write a substantial quantity of documents every single day. Unfortunately, practice does not make perfect where writing is concerned. Instead, practice makes permanent all the bad habits that one has when writing. To overcome our bad writing habits, we need to be mindful of good habits that will help us write better. Here is a list of some good habits that may be helpful. These habits are not original. I have adopted them from various books and articles, and hopefully you find them helpful.

  • Start with the end. By that, I don’t mean to start with the end “in mind”. I mean to literally start with the end. State the conclusion right at the beginning. In this way, we can help readers to keep the conclusion at the top of their minds as they read our writing.
  • Plan the flow. It is simply too easy in the age of computers to start typing and hope that our flow of thought would somehow turn out to be brilliant. What we learned in primary school when we started writing essays is still relevant. We need to plan our points beforehand.
  • Shut out the world. Shut the door, silent the phone, switch off the Internet. Calls can be returned later. Colleagues can be spoken to later. Happy hour plans can wait.
  • Stay focused. Not only must we stay focused on our task, we must also stay focused on the specific point we are elaborating. If any new idea comes up, simply jot it down on a piece of paper and go back to writing the particular point you were working on.
  • Read the research beforehand. Reading the research will help you see other points which have been argued before, and how they were handled. You may have additional thoughts leading to further research before the task of writing starts.
  • Complete the section you are working on and plan your next section before taking a break. Once you start a section, push through it. And when it is completed, plan the next section before taking a break. This is so that you don’t start the next session with a blank mind.
  • Emulate good writing of colleagues and opponents. I always learn from my opponents. When I see a good cross-examination technique, I apply it immediately in my next trial. When I see a good piece of writing, I emulate the style immediately in my next piece of work. As a result, I always evolve in my approach and style.

That’s it for now. Law Alert will take a break next week for Chinese New Year. Here’s wishing everyone a happy and prosperous year ahead.

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