Writing exercise:

I thought I’d pass along, in case anyone is interested, a draft of an exercise that I plan to eventually include in the next edition of my Academic Legal Writing book. Many law students tend to phrase things too abstractly; this exercise aims to help them make their writing more concrete and therefore clearer and more effective. (I realize that this is a matter of style, and different people have different views on the subject, but I’m quite confident that a concrete style is usually — not always, but usually — more effective than an abstract one.)

Consider this first paragraph in an article on laws that prohibit the wearing of masks in public:

The existence of antimask laws poses difficult questions of constitutional law. We know that the freedom of speech is one of our most cherished rights, especially when there is a danger that the free expression of unpopular speakers would be deterred by the fear of negative consequences. And yet the prevention of crime, including crime facilitated by the wearing of masks, must surely be ranked as one of the more compelling of the possible government interests. The public understandably wants to avoid the harm to property, persons, and the social fabric that may flow from such crime.

The purpose of the antimask laws, as the paragraph suggests, is to prevent crime: Anonymity can make it easier for people to get away with crimes; masks facilitate anonymity; so therefore banning masks should (at least in some circumstances) help prevent crime. On the other hand, some people will be reluctant to express unpopular views unless they can do so anonymously, so antimask laws deter some unpopular speech.

The grammar and spelling in this paragraph is fine — but the paragraph is too abstract, and too full of unhelpful generalities. Try rewriting it to make it more concrete, clear, and vivid.

(Click here for my proposed rewrite, and an explanation.)

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