Don’t Use a Big Word Where a Diminutive One Will Suffice


Lawyers have a reputation for being wordy. Take this example:

I am herewith returning the stipulation to dismiss in the above entitled matter; the same being duly executed by me.

Translation: Here is a signed copy of the stipulation to dismiss this case.

Find a legal brief, court decision, contract, or any other document that lawyers have sprinkled their hundreds-of-dollars-an-hour fairy dust on, and you’ll likely spot the same type of verbosity within a paragraph or two. Some in the legal profession, most notably Bryan Garner, are trying to save the world from what my journalism professor called “word diarrhea,” but as someone who sees this type of sentence everyday (only from other firms, of course), I think we have a ways to go before normal humans can decipher most legal writing.

To see how our attorney duetsbloggers are doing on the wordiness front, I compared their writing with our non-attorney co-bloggers. I compared the posts from the last month using the Flesch-Kincaid readibility test, which attempts to pinpoint the grade level of a given writing sample by doing some math stuff to it.

At the risk of (further) alienating the people I work with, the results show that the attorney bloggers are in fact wordier than our guest bloggers. Based on the posts in the last month, the average attorney post can be understood by a high school freshman, while the non-attorney bloggers were able to reach down to that all-important seventh grade demographic. The individual award for most verbose article goes to Brent Lorentz for his post about the Kardashians, which managed a grade level score of 11.3, meaning that the Kardashians themselves probably can’t comprehend what Brent wrote. The Ernest Hemingway award for most straightforward writing award goes to Aaron Keller for his post about names, which manages the almost impossible task of quoting Shakespeare in a post that the average 4th grader can understand.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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