Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The surface appearance of prose

I have been having a sort of debate with Dr. George Gopen, the noted legal-writing consultant, about some aspects of legal writing. It's not really a debate. I just tried to make some points, thinking he was overstating his case. He defended his position. That's about it. It's here.

For example, he said that when writing teachers tell students to "avoid the passive voice," that's wrong.

I say it's usually good advice.

He now says it's really much more sophisticated than that. I agree and have previously written about it here.

Dr. Gopen also said I seem overly concerned with certain aspects of the surface appearance of prose. Perhaps that is true, but I'm not sure if that is a criticism. Today I read something that made me think it is good that at least someone is concerned with the surface appearance of legal writing:
  • In many legal settings specialized forms of written communication are required. In many others, writing is the medium in which a lawyer must express their analysis of an issue and seek to persuade others on their clients' behalf. Any legal document must be concise, clear, and conform to the objective standards that have evolved in the legal profession.
I do not believe Dr. Gopen's "stress position" wisdom would help this writer. This writer needs to avoid the passive voice. This writer needs to understand pronoun agreement. This writer needs to understand parallelism.

If noticing those problems and wanting to fix them makes me overly concerned with the surface appearance of writing, then I'm okay with that.

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