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UNIVERSITY OF THE CORDILLERAS

COLLEGE OF LAW

Legal English I
CLARITY
There is nothing as mysterious as something clearly seen.
(Robert Frost)
The price of clarity, of course, is that the clearer the document, the
more obvious its substantive deficiencies. For the lazy or dull, this price
may be too high. (Reed Dickerson, Professor of Law, Indiana University)

I. CLARITY
Clarity in writing results when the writer is able to express exactly (and
unambiguously) what he wants to be reflected in his work. The last thing
a writer would want is to confuse his readers. On one level, clear writing
involves clarity of expression and sentence structure. On another deeper
level, clarity results to clearness of ones logic and arguments.
Clear expression happens when what one thinks is reflected on that which
one has written. To check if this has happened, the writer must re-read
his work and look at it from the point of view of the ordinary reader. The
writer must check for ambiguities, that is, if some terms may have more
than one meaning. Generally, what is unclear for the writer is likewise
unclear for the reader.

II. USE FAMILIAR AND CONCRETE WORDS


Plain meaning is a by-product of the use of definite and concrete
language. This makes for vivid writing, one which can be easily grasped
as it is picturesque. Preference for abstract words makes one prose
indefinite and vague.
Abstract:
Concrete:
Abstract:
Concrete:
Abstract:
Concrete:
Abstract:

She sustained bereavement of her paternal


relative.
Her father died.
Her counsel failed to come because of the onset
of inclement weather.
Her counsel could not come due to the storm.
You need agricultural implements to do the job of
planting trees.
You need a spade to plant trees.
He rendered a negative response on the subject
of my solicitations.

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Concrete:

He denied my request.

III. AVOID WIDE GAPS BETWEEN SUBJECT, VERB, AND OBJECT


A. GAPS
A sentence normally consists of a subject and a verb, with the object (if
any) following the verb (e.g. The lawyer shouted at the witness.) If these
three are placed in order and near one another, the sentence becomes
easily understandable. Putting modifiers between the subject and verb, or
between the verb and its object makes for tedious writing.
With gap between
subject and verb:

Improved:

The plaintiff, disgusted at how long it


took for the court to decide such simple
ejectment case, filed a motion for early
resolution.
The plaintiff filed a motion for early
resolution. He was disgusted at the
courts delay in resolving his simple
ejectment case.

B. MODIFYING THE MODIFIERS


Avoid nested modifiers which modify the modifiers. When this happens,
take away the nest of modifiers and make a separate sentence.
With Nested Modifier:

Antonio Doro, who was defendants uncle, and


among those defrauded by him, filed before the
court closed for Christmas vacation a Motion to
Intervene.

Improved:

Defendants uncle, Antonio Doro, filed a Motion


to Intervene before the court closed for
Christmas vacation. He was among those
defrauded by defendant.

With Nested Modifier:

Maria, who at the time was carrying a bundle of


newly-rinsed clothes some of which belong to
plaintiffs son, while trying to escape through
the back gate, was caught by the plaintiff there.

Improved:

Maria was caught by the plaintiff at the back


gate as she tried to escape. She carried a
bundle of newly-rinsed clothes, some of which
belonged to the plaintiffs son. (passive), or
The plaintiff caught Maria at the back gate as
she tried to escape. She carried a bundle of

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newly-rinsed clothes, some of which belonged


to plaintiffs son. (active)

IV. AVOID MISPLACED OR DANGLING MODIFIERS


A. RULES IN REVISING DANGLING MODIFIERS
1.

Place single-word modifiers near the word or phrases that they


modify, especially if the modifier tends to describe the wrong word.
Poor: He almost ate all the desserts in the party.
Better: He ate almost all the desserts in the party.
Poor:

The judge could understand the Ilocano spoken by the


witnesses easily.
Better: The judge could easily understand the Ilocano spoken by the
witnesses.
2.

Likewise, place the modifying phrase or clause closest to the word it


modifies. Misplacing these modifiers next to the wrong word often
accidentally changes the meaning of the sentence.
Poor:

Three television sets were reported stolen by the Dalakit City


Police yesterday.
Better: The Dalakit City Police reported that three television sets
were stolen yesterday.
3.

By categorically naming the doer, a dangling modifier can be


eliminated.
Poor: Having finished washing the dishes, the door was closed.
Better: Having finished washing the dishes, Martha closed the door.

V. AVOID THE AMBIGUOUS PRONOUN REFERENCE


A. CONCEPT
Careless use of pronouns can result in ambiguity problems. This occurs
when the writer allows multiple antecedents as possible references to a
single pronoun. Pronouns, when not placed properly, can point to the
wrong noun changing the meaning of the sentence.

B. HOW TO AVOID AMBIGUOUS PRONOUN REFERENCE


1.

To avoid confusion, one must rephrase the sentence to clearly identify


the antecedent.
Poor:

Roberts father will use his car for the picnic.


(not clearly stated whose car will be used)

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Better:

2.

Roberts father will use Roberts car for the picnic.


(if referring to Robert, or)
Roberts father will use the latters car for the picnic.
(referring to the father)

Demonstrative pronouns such as this, that, these, those, them should


only be used when the antecedent is definitely established.
Poor:
Better:

Your skills will surely benefit your friends. Be sure to use


them.
Your skills will surely benefit your friends. Be sure to use
these skills.

VI. PUNCTUATIONS MUST AVOID, NOT CAUSE AMBIGUITY


Punctuations are marks in written communication used to help the reader
better understand the material. One such use is to avoid ambiguity.
Reckless use of punctuations can have absurd results.
The serial comma, which is used before the conjunction and or or in a
list of three or more items, is a case in point, example:
The writer gratefully acknowledges the invaluable help of his coteachers in the State University, the Honorable Governor and the
President of the Republic of the Philippines.
Without the serial comma, the Governor and the President become
co-teachers of the author in the statement above.
On the other hand, reckless use of the serial comma also results in
ambiguity, example:
The writer gratefully acknowledges the invaluable help of his
mother, the Honorable Provincial Governor Vilma Santos, and the
President of the Philippines.
Here the author unwittingly made it appear that the lady Governor
is his mother when such is not the case.
The sentence has to be rephrased to avoid listing the items in an
ambiguous manner.
For example, after mother, put the
conjunction as well as.

VII. RULES IN CLEAR WRITING


1. Be clear on your point.
Good legal writing, as in all good communication for that matter, requires
that the author must have a point and is clear about it. Writers who are

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not sure what they want to say cannot be understood. Their work appears
to ramble, with the reader not knowing where the writer is headed.
There are 3 ways to know when one is unsure of his point: a) by overdescribing the background to what one wants to say; b) by being unsure
whether one is for or against a certain topic; and, c) having too many
points within one work.

2. Make sure your point is communicated at once.


As important as having a point is to go direct to the point in ones paper.
There is no use having a long introduction and then stating ones point
near the end. By this time, the reader is either tired or puzzled not
knowing where the material is headed.

3. Have a structure. This is where you put your data, analysis and
argument.
The introduction, for example, must already contain a summary or abstract
of your work. The background must only be short overview of the problem
or legal concepts to be discussed. Extending an explanation of the
background will tire the reader, and will give an impression that the
background is already the main concept discussed by the paper. The
facts of a particular case under study must only cite relevant details.
Putting in more will make the reading tedious. The analysis will discuss
the writers arguments. Here, the writer will cite facts and evidence
supporting his position. He may also cite counterevidence against his
position, and discuss how these points will fall short of the writers
arguments. If the analysis covers many areas that may be broken into
sub-parts, and each part is discussed separately, the paper must end with
a short conclusion which is a summary of the main analysis presented.

4. Observe grammatical rules.


This cannot be overemphasized. Non-observance on the rules on
grammar subjects the writer to many accusations: from being sloppy to
lazy to being uneducated, and worse, someone who writes non-sensically.

5. Be precise.
Know the exact meaning of the term. If the term is scientific or legal, and
has a technical meaning, know both its technical and ordinary meaning.
Never use a term because it sounds right, particularly when you are not
sure of its definition. To be sure, consult the dictionary. #

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