Bob Ambrogi, preeminent legal journalist extraordinaire (his official title, I believe), has some journalistic writing advice to share. His inspiration: reading hundreds of legal blog posts for the LexBlog Excellence Awards. When Bob Ambrogi gives writing advice, I listen.
Here are a few highlights from his post (but definitely read the whole thing).
- Write a catchy lede and don’t bury it. I sometimes struggle to find a great hook for the first paragraph, but at least I can avoid the rote “On June 1, 2019, the Supreme Court …” example Bob gives. I think these sentences are an editing problem, not a writing problem. You shouldn’t necessarily stop yourself from writing them—you don’t have to wait until you’ve thought of the perfect lede to write the first sentence of the first draft—but you should go back later, cut whatever is boring from the top, and find the most interesting sentence to put there instead.
- Use a style guide. Bob says “consider” using a style guide, because he’s nice. I love this advice in our age of off-the-cuff text. Consistency is hard when writing on the internet. Adopting a style guide will keep you consistent and up the professionalism of your blog.
- Face it—you have a capitalization problem. Now the gloves are off. Weird capitalization runs rampant in legal documents. It shouldn’t run rampant on legal blogs.
- Keep paragraphs and sentences short. Music to my ears. But the next sentence hits me personally: “Consider every comma and conjunction and ask why it isn’t a period.” But I love my semicolons and dashes. Can’t I keep them? One or two, yes, but not a flock.
- Personality isn’t poison. Why is it so difficult for legal writers to be interesting? Part of it, I think, has to do with the subject. I find that lively writing is harder when I’m writing about legal subjects. Not so much when I’m writing about editing or books. Perhaps it’s because I find it easy to be opinionated about writing, and not so easy with factual legal topics.
- Read and reread. “I was surprised at the number of typographical errors, incomplete sentences, missing words, misspelled words, and other simple errors I saw.” Amen! Somehow it feels harsh to criticize for these kinds of things, so I’m glad Bob said it. To me, eliminating these errors (within reason, nobody expects perfection) is a matter of professionalism and caring about your work.
There’s lots more. Read the rest yourself.