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““Subtle change in word-choice and sentence structure can suggest a different sequence of events, thoughts, and actions. Such differing perceptions can create major issues when analyzing the legality of a search or arrest.” –Sacramento Law Enforcement Officer

Basic Concepts

Know your purpose
As soon as you are assigned a writing project, clarify its purpose. Write out, in one or two sentences, your understanding of what your written work should accomplish. Then, confirm that written statement of purpose with your writing colleagues. If you have misunderstood your project’s purpose, clarify it before you write even one word more.

As you are writing, use your confirmed purpose as a guide, constantly checking back to make sure your work’s evidence and analysis serve that purpose. If they do not, edit them out. They are irrelevant to your project.

Sometimes while drafting, you will discover that the true purpose of your project has changed, a sign that you were actually thinking while writing. If so, clarify that new purpose and reevaluate what you’ve already written against the new standard. Though it is painful to remove what you have already written, it is more painful to read what is irrelevant.

Put your message up front
If your purpose tells you what you want to happen as a result of your writing, your message is the idea that will achieve that purpose.

Brainstorm your message options with your project colleagues, after you know your purpose and before you begin the drafting process. This will save many hours of wasted writing, preventing you from wandering down unproductive, inefficient and unnecessary paths of detail and analysis. Once you have agreed on the message, put it up front in the project to orient your readers immediately to the relevant details and analysis to come. This will increase your project’s
purposefulness, keeping you and your readers focused.

Value clarity
Clarity is important because it is a gatekeeper. When you are unclear, you slam the gate, leaving your readers outside. When you are clear, you not only open the gate, but you invite your readers in. To achieve clarity in your writing, develop the skill of writing in plain English, using two main strategies. Use concrete subjects and active verbs, placed close together. And use familiar terms rather than jargon or acronyms.

When you do so, you benefit in several ways. You avoid time-consuming editing after the fact. Your prose sounds crisp, active and readable. You can see more easily where to add concrete evidence for abstract points. And you gain confidence in your ability to discuss your own complex ideas.