Monday, May 09, 2005

Beginning a letter

I'll return to my list of ten plain-language writing principles soon.

Last week I read this:

"Tact and good policy dictate that letters of rejection or disappointment should first state the reason for the disappointment so as to cushion the impact of the unfavorable news that follows."

--Morton S. Freeman, The Grammatical Lawyer (ALI-ABA 1979).

I disagree. Think of the reader. The reader wants to know the decision, the answer, the bad news. No amount of cushioning will help. Get to the point--then give the reasons. There is no need to be blunt or cruel, of course. But I'd rather read this every time:
    I'm sorry, but we won't be able to offer you a job as a legal writing instructor here at the School of Law.

    As you know, we interviewed several strong candidates, and the competition for this position was strong. It was a difficult decision. We believe we made the right choice, but we're sorry we had to turn down strong candidates like you.

    All the best in your search for a full-time legal writing position.
Besides the fact that I like the direct approach, we all know that if the order of the text had been reversed, the candidates would be skimming like crazy to find the decision. Why put them through that?

In all legal writing, state the point and then the support for the point. That's my view.

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