Plato, Twain, King and Others Explain What Makes Writing ‘Good’ — Even Legal Writing
“Writing,” said lawyer Abraham Lincoln in 1859, is “the great invention of the world.” From ancient times, the writer’s craft has captivated leading figures in literature, non-lawyers who are remembered most often for what they wrote and not for what they said about how to write. Their commentary about the writing process, however, seems unsurprising because facility with the written language brought recognition in their day and later in history.
Like most other close analogies, those between literature and legal writing may be imperfect at their edges. “Literature is not the goal of lawyers,” wrote Justice Felix Frankfurter nearly eighty years ago, “though they occasionally attain it.” “The law,” said Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes even earlier, “is not the place for the artist or the poet.”
Despite some imperfections across disciplines, advice from well-known fiction and non-fiction writers can serve lawyers and judges well because law, in its essence, is a literary profession heavily dependent on the written word. There are only two types of writing — good writing and bad writing. As poet (and Massachusetts Bar member) Archibald MacLeish recognized, good legal writing is simply good writing about a legal subject. “[L]awyers would be better off,” said MacLeish, “if they stopped thinking of the language of the law as a different language and realized that the art of writing for legal purposes is in no way distinguishable from the art of writing for any other purpose.”
As Justices Frankfurter and Holmes intimated, the tone and cadence of non-lawyer writers might vary from those of professionals who write in the law. Variance aside, however, the core aim of any writer, lawyers and judges included, remains constant — to convey ideas through precise, concise, simple, and clear expression. This article presents instruction from master non-lawyer writers about these four characteristics.
1. “The difference between the almost right word and right word is … the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug.”
— Mark Twain
When we read personal messages from acquaintances or newspaper columns by writers friendly to our point of view, tolerance may lead us to recast inartful words or sentences in our minds, tacit collaboration that may help cure imprecision. “I know what they really meant to say,” we think silently to ourselves, extending a helping hand even if the words on the page did not quite say it.
Readers, however, normally do not throw lawyers and judges such lifelines. Quite the contrary. Legal writing typically faces a “hostile audience,” a readership that “will do its best to find the weaknesses in the prose, even perhaps to find ways of turning the words against their intended meaning.” Judges and law clerks dissect briefs to test arguments, but only after opponents have tried to make the arguments mean something the writers did not intend. Advocates strain to distinguish language that complicates an appeal or creates a troublesome precedent later on. Parties seeking to evade contractual obligations seek loopholes left by a paragraph, a clause, or even a single word.
The adversary system of civil and criminal justice induces lawyers and judges to strive for the right words and phrases the first time, even when extra care means reviewing drafts line-by-line. Legal writers beset later by a hostile reader’s parsing cannot always rely on a second chance to achieve precision.
2. “The words in prose ought to express the intended meaning, and nothing more.”
— Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Experienced litigators seek to avoid the predicament of having to ask the court to excuse their missteps by doing them a favor. Lawyers weaken the client’s cause when, for example, they miss a deadline, file the wrong paper, or overlook an argument and must summon the court’s discretion for an extension of time or permission to amend. Lawyers similarly weaken the cause when they must summon the generosity of judges or adversaries to do them a favor by acknowledging what the brief, agreement or other filing “really meant to say.”
France’s greatest short-story writer Guy de Maupassant was no lawyer, but his advice can remind lawyers that imprecise or otherwise inapt words can affect legal rights and obligations. “Whatever you want to say,” he asserted, “there is only one word to express it, only one verb to give it movement, only one adjective to qualify it. You must search for that word, that verb, that adjective, and never be content with an approximation, never resort to tricks, even clever ones, and never have recourse to verbal sleight-of-hand to avoid a difficulty.”
Maupassant’s directive sets the bar high, perhaps a bit too high because some imprecision is inescapable in language. Justice Frankfurter, a prolific writer as a Harvard law professor before joining the Supreme Court, was right that “[a]nything that is written may present a problem of meaning” because words “seldom attain more than approximate precision.”
Imprecise tools though words may be, they remain tools nonetheless, sometimes the only tools that lawyers or judges have for stating their position or explaining a decision. Achieving the greatest possible precision remains the reason for meticulous writing and careful editing. Lawyering and judging, like politics, often depend on the “art of the possible,” even as perfection remains unattainable.
1. “Brevity is the soul of wit,” and “Men of few words are the best men.”
— William Shakespeare
Perhaps more than any other foundation for precision, preeminent writers often stress conciseness. “Less is more,” said British Victorian poet and playwright Robert Browning, wasting no words. “Brevity is in writing what charity is to all the other virtues,” said British writer and cleric Sydney Smith (1771-1845). “Righteousness is worth nothing without the one, nor authorship without the other.”
Journalist and satirist Ambrose Bierce acidly defined “novel” as “[a] short story padded,” and wrote what is probably history’s shortest book review, only nine words: “The covers of this book are too far apart.” One of the world’s greatest short-story writers, Russian Anton Chekhov, understood that “[c]onciseness is the sister of talent.”
2. “This report by its very length, defends itself against the risk of being read.”
— Sir Winston Churchill
Conciseness increases the odds that the legal writer will hold the readers’ attention to the finish line. “I want the reader to turn the page and keep on turning to the end,” said Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Barbara W. Tuchman. ‘’This is accomplished only when the narrative moves steadily ahead, not when it comes to a weary standstill, overloaded with every item uncovered in the research.’’
“There is but one art — to omit!,” said Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson, who lamented that, “O if I only knew how to omit, I would ask no other knowledge.”
Churchill, Tuchman and Stevenson accent the point that where the writer can convey the message efficiently in five pages, the writer risks losing the audience by consuming ten. Readers with a choice may not even start a lengthy document, and weary readers may throw in the towel well before the end.
Talented writers succeed best when professional modesty leads them to recognize, as historian David McCullough puts it, “how many distractions the reader has in life today, how many good reasons there are to put the book down.” Distractions in the information age can be personal or professional. Like other Americans, lawyers and judges can choose from thousands of new books each year, plus Internet sources, digital and electronic resources, blogs, and the world’s newspapers and magazines available a mouse-click away. Federal and state judicial dockets have increased faster than population growth for most of the past generation or so, limiting judges’ patience for overwritten submissions. Judges may sense when they have read enough of a brief, just as counsel researching precedents may grow bored with an overwritten judicial opinion. Counsel may have no choice but to plod through an opponent’s unwieldy brief or motion papers, or through unnecessarily verbose legislation or administrative regulations or private agreements, though the writer still risks obscuring important points amid the baggage.
Judges, in particular, can appreciate this short verse by Theodor Geisel (“Dr. Seuss”), who wrote for children, but often with an eye toward the adults: “[T]he writer who breeds/ more words than he needs/ is making a chore/ for the reader who reads./ That’s why my belief is/ the briefer the brief is,/ the greater the sigh/ of the reader’s relief is.”
3. “I have made this [letter] longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”
— French writer and mathematician Blaise Pascal
As any brief writer knows who has ever tried to present an argument within page limits imposed by court rules, achieving brevity without diminished meaning is no easy chore. Without rules or other formal restraints, verbosity can seem the path of least resistance. British poet, essayist and biographer Samuel Johnson, however, aptly likened “[a] man who uses a great many words to express his meaning” to “a bad marksman who, instead of aiming a single stone at an object, takes up a handful and throws at it in hopes he may hit.”
Conciseness demands self-discipline and clear thinking, usually through multiple drafts. Achieving brevity can be particularly hard work nowadays because computers may grease the skids for verbosity, but Johnson was right that “[w]hat is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.”
“Not that the story need be long,” said transcendentalist writer Henry David Thoreau, “but it will take a long time to make it short.” Editing by the writer and others remains central, even though lawyers and judges typically write under time pressures (and, in the lawyer’s case, also financial pressures) that might not constrain other writers. “It is not the writing but the rewriting that counts,” said Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Willa Cather.
Environmentalist Rachel Carson observed that writing is “largely a matter of application and hard work, of writing and rewriting endlessly until you are satisfied that you have said what you want to say as clearly and simply as possible,” a process that meant “many, many revisions” for her. Novelist Ernest Hemingway believed that “easy writing makes hard reading,” and he made no secret that he rewrote the last page of A Farewell to Arms 39 times before the words satisfied him.
Carson and Hemingway were not the only eminent writers candid enough to acknowledge publicly the inadequacy of their early drafts. “To be a writer,” said Pulitzer Prize winner John Hersey, “is to throw away a great deal, not to be satisfied, to type again, and then again and once more, and over and over.”
“Half my life is an act of revision; more than half the act is performed with small changes,” wrote novelist and Academy Award-winning screenwriter John Irving, who recognizes that writing requires “strict toiling with the language.” “I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter,” reported James A. Michener, who could not “recall anything of mine that’s ever been printed in less than three drafts.”
Dr. Seuss, who wrote for a particularly demanding audience, estimated that “[f]or a 60-page book, I’ll probably write 500 pages. … I winnow out.” The rewards of winnowing may become apparent only with the finished document. “To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement,” said Mark Twain, whom novelist William Dean Howells once called “sole, incomparable, the Lincoln of our literature.” “To condense the diffused light of a page of thought into the luminous flash of a single sentence, is worthy to rank as a prize composition just by itself,” Twain explained. “Anybody can have ideas — the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph.”
4. “It is words as with sunbeams —
the more condensed, the deeper they burn.”
— British Romantic poet Robert Southey
Concise, precise writing can be the most direct and thus the most forceful. “When you wish to instruct, be brief; that men’s minds take in quickly what you say, learn its lesson, and retain it faithfully,” said Roman author, orator and politician Marcus Tullius Cicero. “Every word that is unnecessary only pours over the side of a brimming mind.”
Eighteenth-century British poet Alexander Pope said that “[w]ords are like leaves; and where they most abound, much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found.” Pope found “a certain majesty in simplicity” because wordiness breeds imprecision when underbrush shrouds expression.
Does “less” really mean “less”? Not to writer and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel, who says that “even when you cut, you don’t.” “Writing is not like painting where you add. … Writing is more like a sculpture where you remove.” “Even those pages you remove somehow remain,” says Wiesel. “There is a difference between a book of two hundred pages from the very beginning, and a book of two hundred pages which is the result of an original eight hundred pages. The six hundred pages are there. Only you don’t see them.”
The quest for conciseness nonetheless may raise a judgment call for lawyers and judges. Justice Joseph Story, one of the most prolific legal writers in the nation’s history, warned that sometimes “[b]revity becomes of itself a source of obscurity.” Where full exposition of a legal doctrine, argument or agreement requires extended discussion, conciseness for its own sake may actually breed imprecision and compromise the sound administration of justice or the rights of clients.
5. “It wasn’t by accident that the Gettysburg Address was so short. The laws of prose writing are as immutable as those of flight, of mathematics, of physics.”
— Ernest Hemingway
“History at its best is vicarious experience,” said leading twentieth-century historian Edmund S. Morgan. Sometimes an historical example can help dispel a writer’s concern that readers might mistake conciseness for weakness. The “less is more” school profits from recounting President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which he delivered on November 19, 1863 to help dedicate a national cemetery to fallen Civil War soldiers.
Preceding the president to the podium that day was Edward Everett, widely regarded as the greatest American orator of the era, a luminary whose resumé included service as U.S. Representative, U.S. Senator, Massachusetts Governor, Minister to Great Britain, Secretary of State, and Harvard University professor and president. After Everett held the podium for more than two hours, Lincoln rose with a masterpiece that took less than two minutes.
Mindful that the nation’s newspaper and magazine readers needed a concise, stirring and readily embraceable rationale for wartime perseverance, Lincoln knew that his audience extended beyond the shadows of the cemetery. Indeed, the greatest praise for the Gettysburg Address came not from the president’s listeners that November day, but from his readers almost immediately. Ralph Waldo Emerson anticipated the verdict of history when he predicted that the president’s “brief speech at Gettysburg will not easily be surpassed by words on any recorded occasion.” “Perhaps [in] no language, ancient or modern, are any number of words found more touching or eloquent,” echoed abolitionist writer Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Everett knew immediately that his interminable oration had bequeathed nothing memorable. “I should be glad,” he wrote the president the day after the Gettysburg dedication, “ if … I came as near the central idea of the occasion in two hours, as you did in two minutes.” “My speech will soon be forgotten, yours never will be,” the prescient Everett told the president, adding “How gladly would I exchange my hundred pages for your twenty lines.”
6. “Great is the art of beginning, but greater the art is of ending.”
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
7. “Many a poem is marred by a superfluous word.”
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Conciseness begins with a document’s broad design and overall structure, but extends to choice of individual words. “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do,” said lawyer Thomas Jefferson, who found “[n]o stile of writing … so delightful as that which is all pith, which never omits a necessary word, nor uses an unnecessary one.”
British writer H.G. Wells concisely stated the case for conciseness: “I write as straight as I can, just as I walk as straight as I can, because that is the best way to get there.”
British historian and educator Thomas Arnold (1795-1842) introduces the next section of this article. “Brevity and simplicity,” Arnold wrote, “are two of the greatest merits which style can have.”
1. “If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well.”
— attributed to Albert Einstein
2. “Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler.”
— paraphrasing Albert Einstein
In more than 300 scientific and 150 non-scientific papers, Einstein sought to explain complex ideas as simply as possible. “Any fool,” he said, “can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.”
English playwright and novelist W. Somerset Maugham offered two secrets of play writing — “have common sense and — stick to the point.” For lawyers, common sense recognizes that legal arguments are not always as complex as they first seem. “Out of intense complexities,” observed Winston Churchill, “intense simplicities emerge.”
On the other hand, simplicity for its own sake can snare unwary legal writers. Where full exposition of a legal doctrine or argument requires extended discussion, over-simplification may impede rather than enhance communication. Lawyers heed Einstein’s formula best with the same sound judgment at the keyboard that they would exercise when speaking in the courtroom or other halls of justice.
3. “[B]eauty of style and harmony and grace and good rhythm depend on simplicity.”
4. “The supreme excellence is simplicity.”
— Edith Wharton
Lawyers and judges write best by playing the percentages, which (as Einstein taught) usually points the compass toward simplicity. “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” said Leonardo da Vinci, a Renaissance thinker whose writings have survived the centuries. “[T]o be simple is to be great,” agreed essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Thomas Jefferson left no doubt about where he stood. “I dislike the verbose and intricate style of the English statutes,” the elderly lawyer wrote a friend in 1817, “and in our [Virginia’s] revised code I endeavored to restore it to the simple one of the ancient statutes.”
5. “Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.”
— Stephen King
“One of the really bad things you can do to your writing,” King explains, “is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones.”
Ernest Hemingway said that he wrote “what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way I can tell it.” Hemingway and William Faulkner went back and forth about the virtues of simplicity in writing. Faulkner once criticized Hemingway, who he said “had no courage, never been known to use a word that might send the reader to the dictionary.” “Poor Faulkner,” Hemingway responded. “Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.”
Kurt Vonnegut placed himself comfortably in Hemingway’s camp: “I wonder now what Ernest Hemingway’s dictionary looked like, since he got along so well with dinky words that everybody can spell and truly understand.”
Will Rogers is most remembered as a humorist, but satire about public issues frequently conveys perceptive underlying messages. Rogers wrote more than 4,000 nationally syndicated newspaper columns, and he contributed wisdom about language. His advice resembled Hemingway’s and King’s: “[H]ere’s one good thing about language, there is always a short word for it,” Rogers said. “‘Course the Greeks have a word for it, the dictionary has a word for it, but I believe in using your own word for it. I love words but I don’t like strange ones. You don’t understand them, and they don’t understand you. Old words is like old friends — you know ’em the minute you see ’em.”
6. “The finest language is mostly made up of simple unimposing words.”
— British Victorian novelist George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans)
“Broadly speaking,” said Churchill, “the short words are the best, and the old words when short are best of all.” “Use the smallest word that does the job,” advised essayist and journalist E. B. White.
In a letter to a twelve-year-old boy, Mark Twain praised his young correspondent for “us[ing] plain, simple language, short words, and brief sentences. That is the way to write English — it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in.”
“Where a short word will do,” said British writer and theologian Henry Alford (1810-1871), “you always lose by using a long one.” “Elegance of language may not be in the power of all of us,” Alford concluded, “but simplicity and straightforwardness are.”
1. “Have something to say, and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret of style.”
— British poet and writer Matthew Arnold
“[T]he first end of a writer,” British Poet Laureate and literary critic John Dryden counseled in 1700, is “to be understood.” “Everyone who writes strives for the same thing,” added poet William Carlos Williams: “To say it swiftly, clearly, to say the hard thing that way, using few words. Not to gum up the paragraph. To know when to quit when you’ve done.”
British writer and poet John Ruskin (1819-1900) found it “excellent discipline for an author to feel that he must say all he has to say in the fewest possible words, or his reader is sure to skip them; and in the plainest possible words, or his reader will certainly misunderstand them.”
2. “The chief virtue that language can have is clarity, and nothing detracts from it so much as the use of unfamiliar words.”
3. “Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people.”
—William Butler Yeats
“Don’t implement promises, but keep them,” instructed British novelist and essayist C. S. Lewis. “Don’t say ‘infinitely’ when you mean ‘very,’ otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.”
Plain clarity is better than ornate obscurity,” advised Mark Twain. “Words in prose,” said British Romantic poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “ought to express the intended meaning; if they attract attention to themselves, it is a fault; in the very best styles you read page after page without noticing the medium.”
Coleridge’s point is universal. Lawyers and judges normally write best when precision, conciseness, simplicity and clarity craft a style that induces readers to remember the message more than they remember the messenger.
Literary figures have long disparaged lawyers’ writing as unworthy of emulation. “[D]o not give it to a lawyer’s clerk to write,” warned Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote, “for they use a legal hand that Satan himself will not understand.” Lawyers, said Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels, use “a peculiar cant and jargon of their own that no other mortal can understand, and wherein all their laws are written, which they take special care to multiply; whereby they have wholly confounded the very essence of truth and falsehood, of right and wrong.”
In his poem, “The Lawyers Know Too Much,” Pulitzer Prize winning writer and poet Carl Sandberg chided “higgling lawyers” for “Too many slippery ifs and buts and howevers,/ Too much hereinbefore provided whereas,/ Too many doors to go in and out of.” Perhaps, Sandberg’s poem mused, a lifetime of unvarnished legalese helps explain “why a hearse horse snickers hauling a lawyer’s bones.”
Lawyers who appreciated literary style have expressed similar criticism. Near the end of his life, for example, Thomas Jefferson chastised his fellow lawyers for “making every other word a ‘said’ or ‘aforesaid’ and saying everything over two or three times, so that nobody but we of the craft can untwist the diction and find out what it means.”
“I quote others in order to better express my own self,” explained French Renaissance essayist Michel de Montaigne. In this article, I have quoted from some of history’s best-known writers to show how literature can help lawyers and judges achieve what Mark Twain called “the supreme function of language … — to convey ideas and emotions.”
For lawyers and judges alike, the core aspiration is continually to hone writing skills because, as Hemingway put it, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” “As with all other aspects of the narrative art,” says Stephen King, writers “improve with practice, but practice will never make you perfect. Why should it? What fun would that be?”
- Abraham Lincoln, Second Lecture on Discoveries and Inventions 4 (Feb. 11, 1859), http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?document=2508 (Mar. 4, 2011).
- Felix Frankfurter, “When Judge Cardozo Writes,” The New Republic, April 8, 1931, http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/when-judge-cardozo-writes (Mar. 4, 2011).
- Oliver Wendell Holmes, “The Profession of the Law,” in Collected Legal Papers 29 (1920) (Wm. S. Hein ed. 1985).
- Jay Wishingrad & Douglas E. Abrams, “The Lawyer’s Bookshelf,” N.Y.L.J., Dec. 12, 1980, at 2 (reviewing Richard C. Wydick, Plain English for Lawyers (1st ed. 1979)) (good writing about a legal subject).
- Archibald MacLeish, book review, 78 Harv. L. Rev. 490, 490 (1964) (reviewing David Mellinkoff, The Language of the Law (1963)).
- Henry Weihofen, Legal Writing Style 8-104 (2d ed. 1980) (discussing the four fundamentals).
- Mark Twain, “Reply to the Editor of the Art of Authorship,” in Mark Twain: Tales, Speeches, Essays, and Sketches 359, 360 (Tom Quirk, ed., 1994); Mark My Words: Mark Twain on Writing xii (Mark Dawidziak, ed., 1996).
- George D. Gopen, Writing from a Legal Perspective 1 (1981).
- Jay Wishingrad & Douglas E. Abrams, book review, 1981 Duke L.J. 1061,1063 (reviewing George D. Gopen, Writing from a Legal Perspective (1981)).
- Walter Allen, Writers on Writing 93 (2007) (quoting Coleridge).
- Guy de Maupassant, Selected Short Stories 10-11 (Roger Colet, ed., 1971) (Maupassant quoting French writer Gustave Flaubert).
- Felix Frankfurter, “Some Reflections On the Reading of Statutes,” 47 Colum. L. Rev. 527, 528 (1947), reprinting Felix Frankfurter, Sixth Annual Benjamin N. Cardozo Lecture, 2 Rec. Bar Ass’n City of N.Y., No. 6 (1947).
- Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations 50 (2d ed., 2002) (quoting German chancellor Otto von Bismarck: “Politics is the art of the possible.”).
- Glenn Bradford, “Pursuing Perfection in the Practice of Law: An Imperfect Essay by an Imperfect Lawyer,” 65 J. Mo. Bar 120 (May-June 2009).
- William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act II, scene 2 (“soul of wit”); William Shakespeare, King Henry V, Act III, scene II (“men of few words”).
- Robert Browning, “Andrea del Sarto,” in Pictor Ignotus, Fra Lippo Lippi, Andrea Del Sarto 32 (1925).
- Tryon Edwards, A Dictionary of Thoughts 52 (1899) (quoting Smith).
- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary 92 (1911) (short story padded); Gregory Kane, “Worst Part of Movies Today Is Story Between the Credits,” Baltimore Sun, Sept. 6, 2000, at 1B.
- Anton Chekhov, The Duel and Other Short Stories, note, at vi (2003).
- Dominique Enright, The Wicked Wit of Winston Churchill 19 (2001) (quoting Churchill).
- Eric Pace, “Barbara Tuchman Dead at 77; A Pulitzer-Winning Historian,” N.Y. Times, Feb. 7, 1989 (obituary).
- The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson to His Family and Friends 339 (Sidney Colvin ed., 1899) (letter of Oct. 1883).
- 2003 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, David McCullough Interview, The Title Always Comes Last 3, http://www.neh.gov/ whoweare/mccullough/interview.html (Mar. 4, 2010).
- Judicial Conf. of the U.S., Long Range Plan For the Federal Courts 9-12 (1995); ABA Comm’n on the 21st Century Judiciary, Justice in Jeopardy 39 (2003) (state courts).
- Richard Nordquist, “We Can Do Better”: Dr. Seuss on Writing, http://grammar.about.com/od/advicefromthepros/a/seusswrite09.htm (Mar. 4, 2011).
- Blaise Pascal, Lettres Provinciales, letter 16 (1657); see also Shutta Crumm, Using Picture Books to Teach Literary Techniques, Book Links 57, 57 (Mar. 2007) (quoting Mark Twain: “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”).
- “Speaker’s Corner,” Independent on Saturday (South Africa), June 12, 2010, at 8 (quoting Johnson).
- Anecdotes by William Seward, F.R.S., in II Johnsonian Miscellanies 309 (George Birkbeck Hil ed., 1897) (quoting Johnson).
- Henry David Thoreau, Walden and Other Writings 22 (Joseph Wood Krutch, ed., 1981).
- Elsie Goth Marshall, 1936: Red Cloud, The Nebraska Alumnus (1936), available at http://cather.unl.edu/bohlke.i.32.html (quoting Cather) (Mar. 4, 2011).
- Paul Brooks, The House of Life: Rachel Carson at Work 1-3 (1972).
- Carlos Baker, Hemingway, the Writer as Artist 71 (4th ed. 1972) (quoting Hemingway).
- George Plimpton, Writers at Work 124 (1963); Ernest Hemingway, “The Art of Fiction,” The Paris Review Interview, 1956.
- Donald Murray, The Craft of Revision (1991) (quoting Hersey).
- John Irving, “Trying to Save Piggy Sneed,” N.Y. Times, Aug. 22, 1982, sec. 7, at 3.
- Camille Lamar Campbell, “How to Use a Tube Top and a Dress Code to Demystify the Predictive Writing Process and Build a Framework of Hope During the First Weeks of Class,” 48 Duq. L. Rev. 273, 310 (2010) (quoting Michener).
- Bill Knott, The Craft of Fiction 159 (1977) (quoting Michener); Kathryn Ann Lindskoog, Creative Writing for People Who Can’t Not Write 62 (1989) (same; see also Robert Van Gelder, “An Interview With Mr. E. B. White, Essayist,” N.Y. Times, Aug. 2, 1942, at BR2 (“quoting White: “The main thing I try to do is write as clearly as I can … I rewrite a good deal to make it clear.”); Lawrence Grobel, Conversations with Capote 205 (1985) (quoting Truman Capote: “I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.”).
- Judith Frutig, “Dr. Seuss’s Green-Eggs-and-Ham World,” in Thomas Fensch, Of Sneetches and Whos and the Good Dr. Seuss: Essays on the Writings and Life of Theodor Geisel 77, 79 (1997).
- Mark My Words, supra note 7, at 6.
- Mark Twain, Letter of Feb. 10, 1868, quoted at White House Symposium on the Life and Works of Mark Twain (Nov. 29, 2001), http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/firstlady/initiatives/twain.html (Mar. 4, 2010); see also Mark My Words, supra note 7, at 42 (“A successful book is not made up of what is in it, but what is left out of it.”).
- Tim Dick, “Take a Clear Mind and a Sharp Pencil into Battle Against Verbiage,” Sydney Morn. Herald (Australia), Dec. 12, 2009, at 7 (quoting Southey).
- I Lloyd Albert Johnson, A Toolbox for Humanity: More Than 9000 Years of Thought 33 (2003) (quoting Cicero).
- Alexander Pope, “An Essay on Criticism,” Part II, line 109 (1711).
- I Alexander Pope, The Works of Alexander Pope, Esq. (1824).
- Robert Franciosi, Elie Wiesel: Conversations 72 (2002).
- Joseph Story, Story’s Miscellaneous Writings 153 (1835).
- Ernest Hemingway, Letter of July 23, 1945, in Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters 1917-1961 (Carlos Baker ed., 1981).
- John M. Murrin, “Edmund S. Morgan,” in Clio’s Favorites, Leading Historians of the United States, 1945-2000, at 134 (Robert Allen Rutland ed., 2000) (quoting Morgan).
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Selected Writings 919 (Brooks Atkinson ed., 1940).
- Gabor Borrit, The Gettysburg Gospel: The Lincoln Speech That Nobody Knows 159 (2006) (quoting Stowe).
- James M. McPherson, Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution 112 (1991).
- Univ. of Va., Miller Center of Public Affairs, American President: An Online Resource, Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), http://millercenter.org/academic/americanpresident/lincoln/essays/biography/7 (Mar. 4, 2011).
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Elegiac Verse,” stanza XIV, http://www.hwlongfellow.org/poems_poem.php?pid=310 (Mar. 4, 2011).
- III The Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow with Bibliographical and Critical Notes and His Life, with Extracts from His Journals and Correspondence (1886-1891), at 278.
- Cindy Skrzycki, “Government Experts Tackle Bad Writing,” Wash. Post, June 26, 1998, at F1 (“most valuable,” quoting Jefferson); The Family Letters of Thomas Jefferson 369 (E.M. Betts and J.A. Bear, Jr. eds., 1966) (letter of Dec. 7, 1818) (“stile of writing”).
- Walter Allen, supra note 10, at 210.
- I Arthur P. Stanley, The Life and Correspondence of Thomas Arnold, D.D. 334-35 (1910) (quoting Arnold).
- See, e.g., “Fast Money,” The Age (Melbourne, Australia), Nov. 29, 1999, at 2.
- Albert Einstein, “On the Method of Theoretical Physics,” 1 Philosophy of Science 163, 165 (1934) (1933 lecture at Oxford Univ.) (“the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience”); Bryan A. Garner, A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage 661 (2d ed. 1995).
- II Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist 730–746 (Paul Arthur Schilpp ed., 1951).
- Noma Prins, “Deck Is Stacked Against Small Banks,” Newsday, Oct. 22, 2009, at A37 (quoting Einstein).
- W. Somerset Maugham 158 (Anthony Curtis & John Whitehead, eds., 2003 ed.).
- Manuel L. Real, “Symposium on Mass Torts: What Evil Have We Wrought: Class Action, Mass Torts, and Settlement,” 31 Loy. L.A. L. Rev. 437, 437 (1998) (quoting Churchill).
- Plato, The Republic, Book III, at 401 (Benjamin Jowett 3d ed. 1908).
- Edith Wharton & Ogden Codman, Jr., The Decoration of Houses 198 (1897).
- Helen Granat, Wisdom Through the Ages: A Collection of Favorite Quotations: Book Two, at 225 (2003) (quoting da Vinci).
- Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers 544 (1895) (quoting Emerson).
- 9 Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson 489-90 (1904) (letter of Sept. 9, 1817).
- Stephen King, Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully: In Ten Minutes (1986), http://www.greatwriting.co.uk/ content/view/312/74/ (Mar. 4, 2011).
- Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft 110 (2000).
- A.E. Hotchner, Papa Hemingway 69 (1966) (quoting Hemingway).
- Id. at 69-70 (1966) (quoting Hemingway).
- Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., “The Latest Word” (reviewing The Random House Dictionary of the English Language (1966)), N.Y. Times, Oct. 30, 1966, at BR1.
- Mark Schlachtenhaufen, “Centennial Snapshot: Will Rogers’ Grandson Carries on Tradition of Family Service,” Okla. Publishing Today, May 31, 2007, http://web.archive.org/web/20070928161652http://www.okinsider.com/topic_01OF0MMAHY/readstory.oki?storyid=03K101DDQ (Mar. 4, 2011).
- Betty Rogers, Will Rogers 294 (1941; new ed. 1979) (quoting Rogers).
- George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), quoted at Plainlanguage.gov, http://www.plainlanguage.gov/resources/quotes/historical.cfm (Mar. 4, 2011).
- Susan Wagner, “Making Your Appeals More Appealing: Appellate Judges Talk About Appellate Practice,” 59 Ala. Law. 321, 325 (1998) (quoting Churchill).
- Max Messmer, “It’s Best to Be Straightforward on Your Cover Letter, Resumé,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Nov. 29, 2009, at H1 (quoting White).
- Robert Hartwell Fiske, The Dictionary of Concise Writing: 10,000 Alternatives to Wordy Phrases 11 (2002).
- Henry Alford, The Queen’s English: A Manual of Idiom and Usage 350 (4th ed. 1874).
- Id. at 350-51.
- Matthew Arnold, The Works of Matthew Arnold 6 (1903-04).
- Something to Say: William Carlos Williams on Younger Poets 96 (James E. B. Breslin ed., 1985).
- John Ruskin, A Joy for Ever, Note 6th, at 188 (1857 & 1880 reissue).
- Webster’s Online Dictionary, http://www.websters-online-dictionary.org/definitions/Hippocrates?cx=partner-pub-0939450753529744%3Av0qd01-tdlq&cof=FORID%3A9&ie=UTF-8&q=Hippocrates&sa=Search#906 (Mar. 4, 2011).
- William Butler Yeats, quoted at Plainlanguage.gov, http://www.plainlanguage.gov/resources/quotes/historical.cfm (Mar. 4, 2011).
- C. S. Lewis’ Letters to Children 64 (Lyle W. Dorsett & Marjorie Lamp Mead, eds., 1985) (emphasis in original).
- Id. (emphasis in original).
- Mark My Words, supra note 7, at 35.
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge, quoted at Plainlanguage.gov, http://www.plainlanguage.gov/resources/quotes/historical.cfm (Mar. 4, 2011).
- Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote 214 (CRW ed. 2006).
- Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels 161 (1726; 1887 ed.).
- Carl Sandburg, “The Lawyers Know Too Much,” in Anthology of Magazine Verse for 1920 (William Stanley Braithwaite ed., 1920).
- 9 Thomas Jefferson, supra note 69, at 490 (letter of Sept. 9, 1817).
- Mary Cox Garner, The Hidden Souls of Words: Keys to Transformation Through the Power of Words 58 (2004) (quoting Montaigne).
- Mark My Words, supra note 7, at 18.
- N.Y. J.-Am., July 11, 1961, quoted in Robert Schmuhl, “For Some the Act of Writing Can Be as Important as the Finished Work,” Chicago Tribune, April 2, 2000, at C3.
- Stephen King, On Writing, supra note 71, at 178.
DOUGLAS E. ABRAMS, a law professor at the University of Missouri, has written or co-authored five books. Four U.S. Supreme Court decisions have cited his law review articles. This article originally appeared in Precedent, a publication of The Missouri Bar, and is reprinted with permission of The Missouri Bar.