Legal writing

Formal styles for legal writing

posted in: academic editing | 0

I’ve blogged previously about avoiding informal style in academic writing. It’s difficult these days when we all tend to write our status updates and blog posts in a chatty style. When I first started tweeting I thought that Twitter had a language all of its own, but I’ve grown used to it now. Developing a formal writing style is crucial to the success of any academic essay, dissertation or thesis, especially legal writing.

Informal writing style in law essays

Legal writing can often feel like a language all of its own, with archaic wording and Latin phrases. Writing a law essay or dissertation is one place where you need to write in a plain English but formal writing style. I’ve been proofreading quite a few law dissertations recently, so I wanted to take some examples of the types of informal wording that I’ve come across several times and explain how you can use a few simple word changes to ‘tighten up’ the text.

Avoid the informal

It is useful to see what the Companies Act 2006 says.
It is useful to consider the provisions of the Companies Act 2006.

The absence of an appeal procedure can be a disadvantage as well
The absence of an appeal procedure can also be a disadvantage.

An empirical study was done to look at what the courts had found in various cases.
An empirical study examined the outcomes of number of court cases.

What follows talks about the Companies Act and the results of the latest cases.
The following section discusses the Companies Act in the light of recent court decisions.

Generally, I’d try to avoid using the words or phrasing: to see; talks about; looks at; get; done; as well as; and what, i.e. what it says, what follows, what was done. The list goes on…

Use OSCOLA style in legal writing

If you are using the OSCOLA referencing style, which most UK university law departments follow, there are also tricky rules for punctuation and citations. The main point to remember with punctuation is that OSCOLA style uses as little as possible, so, for example, there is no full stops in ie or eg – weird, I know! Also, remember that the primary choices for quotation marks is single ‘style’, and that the footnote markers are inside the punctuation at the end of a sentence. There are more tips in my blog post specifically about OSCOLA punctuation. The styling of the footnotes and bibliography is another consideration, covered in detail in previous posts.
I hope these few tips will help you to develop a formal style of legal writing. Careful proofreading and copy-editing can further polish your writing, so if you’d like some help with your next law essay then please contact me for a quotation.

Legal writing
Legal writing