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Official Magazine of the Denver Bar Association

Top Needless Words to Consider Omitting

 

Lawyers are accused, falsely or fairly, of many stereotypes, including being argumentative, loquacious and workaholics. One stereotype we have unfortunately avoided thus far is that of simple communicators who are easy to understand.

Strunk & White encouraged developing this attribute of clear communication by “omit[ing] needless words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”

In applying this advice to lawyers, Bryan A. Garner indicated “Just because you know what malum prohitibum means or what a habendum clause does is no reason to use such language at the dinner table. In legal writing as in all writing, the object is to communicate effectively. Yet we occasionally encounter writers who seek to demonstrate their own brilliance with an obscure vocabulary. We shouldn’t stifle a liberal use of the English vocabulary. But if you use a big word, assure yourself that you have done it because no other term will serve better in context—not because you want to teach your readers a new word.”

Help the progression of the lawyer stereotype by looking to “omit needless words” in favor of clear communication. The following is a list of the top words and phrases that often can be eliminated in favor of something more fitting.

Consider Omitting…
adjacent to*
ameliorate*
by virtue of the fact that*
call your attention to the fact that ^
cognizant*
conflagration*
contumacious*
elucidate*
erstwhile*
forthwith*
inimical*
instant case*
inter alia*
in spite of the fact that^
in the vicinity of*
multitudinous*
owing to the fact that^
requisite*
the fact that he had not succeeded^
wherewithal*

In Favor of:
next to
improve
because; since
remind you (notify you)
aware
fire
contemptuous
explain
former; formerly; once; one-time
immediately
adverse; hostile*
this case
among other things
though (although)
near; around
many
since (because)
needed; required
his failure
means, money, ability

*Bryan A. Garner — The Redbook A Manual on Legal Style
^Strunk & White

 

Jardine-Headshot-1(1)By Ryan T. Jardine a public finance attorney with Kutak Rock LLP in Denver. He may be reached at ryan.jardine@kutak-rock.com.

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