Legal Writing in Plain English, by Bryan A. Garner

Bryan A. Garner is a U.S. lawyer, lexicographer, and teacher who has written several books about English usage and style, including “Garner’s Modern American Usage” and “Elements of Legal Style.” He is the editor-in-chief of all current editions of Black’s Law Dictionary. He has coauthored two books with Justice Antonin Scalia: “Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges” (2008) and “Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts” (2012). Garner is the only co-author of a Supreme Court Justice in the history of the Court.

Founder and president of LawProse, Inc., he serves as Distinguished Research Professor of Law at Southern Methodist University Law School.

Garner has contributed to the field of procedural rules. In 1992-1994, he revised all amendments to the various sets of Federal Rules-Civil, Appellate, Evidence, Bankruptcy, and Criminal-by the United States Judicial Conference. In the mid-1990s, he restyled the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure and the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which were adopted by the Judicial Conference, then by the United States Supreme Court, and enacted by Congress. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were restyled in 1993-1994 and adopted on December 1, 2007. The Administrative Office of the United States Courts has printed and distributed Garner’s booklet “Guidelines for Drafting and Editing Court Rules” (1996).

Garner has revised the Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure, the California Rules of Appellate Procedure, the California Judicial Council Rules, the Local Rules of the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, and the Rules on Judicial-Conduct and Disability Proceedings (for federal courts).

Since 2012, Garner has had a monthly column in the American Bar Association Journal. Since 1999, he has had a similar column in the ABA's Student Lawyer.

As a grammarian, Garner has written books on general English usage, including Garner’s Modern American Usage. When the University of Chicago Press published the 15th edition of the influential The Chicago Manual of Style (ISBN 0-226-10403-6) in 2003, Garner contributed a chapter on grammar and usage. Garner is the only solo author of a section in The Chicago Manual of Style.

(From Wikipedia)

(Note: Clicking the links below will take you to the exercises. You can download all fifty exercises in a single ASCII text file. Model answers are in Garner’s book.)

01 Have something to say--and think it through.

02 For maximal efficiency, plan your writing projects. Try nonlinear outlining.

03 Order your material in a logical sequence. Use chronology when presenting facts. Keep related material together.

04 Divide the document into sections, and divide sections into smaller parts as needed. Use informative headings for the sections and subsections.

05 Omit needless words.

06 Keep your average sentence length to about 20 words.

07 Keep the subject, the verb, and the object together--toward the beginning of the sentence.

08 Prefer the active voice over the passive.

09 Use parallel phrasing for parallel ideas.

10 Avoid multiple negatives.

11 End sentences emphatically.

12 Learn to detest simplifiable jargon.

13 Use strong, precise verbs. Minimize is, are, was, and were.

14 Turn -ion words into verbs when you can.

15 Simplify wordy phrases. Watch out for of.

16 Avoid doublets and triplets.

17 Refer to people and companies by name.

18 Don't habitually use parenthetical shorthand names. Use them only when you really need them.

19 Shun newfangled acronyms.

20 Make everything you write speakable.

21 Plan all three parts: the beginning, the middle, and the end.

22 Use the “deep issue” to spill the beans on the first page.

23 Summarize. Don’t overparticularize.

24 Introduce each paragraph with a topic sentence.

25 Bridge between paragraphs.

26 Vary the length of your paragraphs, but generally keep them short.

27 Provide signposts along the way.

28 Unclutter the text by moving citations into footnotes.

29 Weave quotations deftly into your narrative.

30 Be forthright in dealing with counterarguments.

31 Draft for an ordinary reader, not for a mythical judge who might someday review the document.

32 Organize provisions in order of descending importance.

33 Minimize definitions. If you have more than just a few, put them in a schedule at the end--not at the beginning.

34 Break down enumerations into parallel provisions. Put every list of subparts at the end of the sentence--never at the beginning or in the middle.

35 Delete every shall.

36 Don’t use provisos.

37 Replace and/or wherever it appears.

38 Prefer the singular over the plural.

39 Prefer numerals, not words, to denote amounts. Avoid word-numeral doublets.

40 If you don’t understand a form provision--or don’t understand why it should be included in your document--try diligently to gain that understanding. If you still can’t understand it, cut it.

41 Use a readable typeface.

42 Create ample white space--and use it meaningfully.

43 Highlight ideas with attention-getters such as bullets.

44 Don’t use all capitals, and avoid initial capitals.

45 For a long document, make a table of contents.

46 Embrace constructive criticism.

47 Edit yourself systematically.

48 Learn how to find reliable answers to questions of grammar and usage.

49 Habitually gauge your own readerly likes and dislikes, as well as those of other readers.

50 Remember that good writing makes the reader’s job easy; bad writing makes it hard.


Exercises created by Atty. Gerry T. Galacio; all rights reserved. You can freely use these exercises, but you must not upload them to any website or the cloud. For comments, questions, corrections, or suggestions, email


Exercises created with freeware Hot Potatoes v. 6.3 from the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada.


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