Clarity (1)

In onze Workshops Legal English Writing Skills staan de Branch Out “7 Cs of Writing” centraal. Deze 7 Cs zijn: Clarity, Correctness, Courtesy, Conciseness, Cohesion, Consistency en Completeness (voor een korte beschrijving: zie hiernaast).

Onder de C van Clarity het volgende: (NB. we geven drie voorbeelden die we het afgelopen jaar zijn tegengekomen. Lezers zijn uitgenodigd om hun eigen verbeteringen aan de laatste twee voorbeelden in te sturen. Iedereen krijgt feedback!!).


When I broach the topic of clarity in writing with my students, I usually uncover a huge misconception which is that we do not write to IMPRESS, but to INFORM.  Some think that pages of dense, undecipherable, longwinded prose are the norm and what clients, business partners, bosses etc. expect. “After all, they are paying us to do this” one particular student once pointed out to me! Nothing could be further from the truth. Your average reader is very busy and wants to be able to grasp the message at first glance; remember, ‘time is money’.  In addition, if you are prone to producing overly complex sentences, you are more likely to fall into the trap of making unnecessary grammatical mistakes.

Example 1:

If any partner becomes a bankrupt partner, the partnership, at its sole option, exercisable by notice from the managing general partner (including any newly designated managing general partner) to the bankrupt partner or its duly appointed representative at any time prior to the 180th day after receipt of notice of the occurrence of the event causing the partner to become a bankrupt partner, may buy, and upon the exercise of this option the bankrupt partner or its representative shall sell, the bankrupt partner’s partnership interest.

Could (or maybe should??) be worded as:

The partnership may buy the bankrupt partner’s interest. To exercise its option to buy, the managing general partner must provide notice to the bankrupt partner no later than 180 days after receiving notice of the event that caused bankruptcy.

So here are a few tips:

Short paragraphs

  • One main idea per paragraph
  • Paragraphs of more than six lines put the reader off
  • Break down longer paragraphs to keep the reader’s attention
  • Link your ideas between paragraphs

Short sentences

  • One idea per sentence
  • Don’t use over-long sentences. In most documents, any sentence of more than 20 words may be too complex for the reader to take in.
  • Follow the KISS principle – Keep It Short & Simple. A reader should never have to reread a sentence if he/she did not get the meaning the first time
  • Check your use of and. You need to use connectors (e.g. however, moreover etc.) to show the relationship between ideas – but if the relationship is simply additive, wouldn’t a separate sentence be better?

Two more ‘real-life’ examples (please correct and return to; we will give you feed-back):

Example 2: Please note that we have reviewed the four contracts you sent us, and established that Stevenson Inc. made a few text changes, of which we feel that these – as said – could possibly lead to interpretation difficulties, and (more importantly) does not always fully cover the situation that Stevenson Inc. has in mind with the specific agreement.

Example 3: Before deciding on the introduction of a personal computer scheme I ask you for feedback/advice – as far as possible consulting together and/or with each other – on the above outlined intended decision.


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