Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Undergrad writing vs. legal writing

In the Winter 2005 issue of Perspectives, Professor Anne Enquist writes about undergraduate writing and legal writing. Anne Enquist, Talking to Students about the Differences Between Undergraduate Writing and Legal Writing, 13 Perspectives: Teaching Legal Research and Writing 104 (2005).

It's the best summary on the subject I've ever seen. I'm going to require all my first-year students to read it.

She points out that in undergraduate writing you are often rewarded for creativity, self expression, and length. But in legal writing you are rewarded for clarity, directness, and brevity. And her insights on the audiences are excellent. In undergraduate writing, she says, "[t]he writer is usually the novice in the subject matter, and the reader is the expert." But in legal writing, "[t]he writer is the expert writing for a less informed reader." Id.

The urge among my students to show that they know more than others is, I think, a direct result of undergraduate writing. On a typical legal writing assignment, all the students will find and use the same sources. Their grades will depend not on how many sources they find or on how clever their legal theories are; their grades will depend on how well they write about the authorities they--and everyone else--will find.

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