Re: Popular(izing) Science

Date: Sun Feb 18 2001 - 10:24:40 MST

In a message dated 2/10/01 2:43:47 PM Central Standard Time, writes:

> Let me put up something for your consideration and speculation. I have
> always heard that scientists and engineers can't write. As an engineer
> comment pinched.
> However when I took an obligatory course in law I noticed that Supreme
> Court Justices and Engineers use basically the same style and use it to
> serve
> the same purpose -- to explain their decisions and how they arrived at
> Now, I wonder if there is anything wrong with the writing style or
> that it is one most folks don't run into.

Very apt observation. Legal writing is TECHNICAL writing and has some rigid
functional goals and constraints if it is to do it's job: You have to clearly
set out the factual and legal bases for the argument or decision you want to
convey and get to the point of your argument or analysis as clearly and
quickly as you can. This is so for two reasons. First, persuasive
communication "shows it's bones" in terms of structure and function and,
second, the readers of legal writing are uniformly overtaxed in terms of time
and energy for consumption of information.

When I teach legal writing I have to first assess the student's writing
background. Students coming from a technical background usually present
little challenge in teaching this as a first stage of mastering the skills
required of an effective legal communicator. The challenge comes in the
second stage, which is putting LIFE back into the end product to increase its
impact as a tool of persuasion (and even judicial writing -- as opposed to
the writing of the advocate -- should be a matter of persuasion, a thing
understood by few judges), but VERY carefully and economically. People who
come from a background in literature and other areas of the humanities need
much more coaxing to get them to strip their legal writing down to the bare
essentials before they get to the "icing on the cake", which is the
"decoration" of the basic structure with rhetorical flourishes.

       Greg Burch <>----<>
      Attorney ::: Vice President, Extropy Institute ::: Wilderness Guide -or-
                                           ICQ # 61112550
        "We never stop investigating. We are never satisfied that we know
        enough to get by. Every question we answer leads on to another
       question. This has become the greatest survival trick of our species."
                                          -- Desmond Morris

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