Simple is Key

By: Clarissa Brady

Michael always says ‘K-I-S-S.  Keep it simple, stupid.’ Great advice.  Hurts my feelings every time.”

  • Dwight Schrute

I learned that this advice is not only great for paper sales, but also for legal writing.  The natural instinct in the first attempt at legal writing is to add legalese or unnecessary detail.  Whether it was preparing my memo in Legal Practice Skills class, a brief at the U.S. District Court, or my Law Review note, I always received the same feedback on my writing: “cut the unnecessary language.”

If you think about it, the concept of legal writing itself is consistent and simple.  Just about any law student or legal professional will recognize IRAC, no matter where they attended law school.  While the idea is simple, neither the legal analysis nor the writing process ever feels simple.  In fact, sometimes keeping things simple, is actually complicated.  Simple does not mean easy.  I would say, just don’t overthink it, but that would be hypocritical, because the amount of overthinking that went into drafting this short blog excerpt alone was incredible.  Nevertheless, I compiled the most redundant editing pointers I’ve received that help me to try to keep things simple:

  • Use thesis sentences
  • Keep paragraphs between three to six sentences
  • Use short sentences
  • Avoid unnecessary detail: why use three to four words when one will work?
  • Remember your theme
  • Make sure each sentence serves a purpose to your argument
  • Remove the passive voice
  • Read your writing out loud
  • Remind yourself of the question or task presented
  • Leave time between drafting and editing

These tips, along with being open to critiques from others, has truly improved my writing in just one year.  Like Michael Scott, I say K-I-S-S, but I actually mean, Keep It Simple, Smartie.  Hurts my feelings less and helps me to remember to keep it simple.