The Bar News

Legal-writing tip: Read your prose aloud

Almost a century and half later, Abraham Lincoln’s written work still stands up. I just finished (and enjoyed) a Lincoln biography and was struck how Lincoln relied on his ear to help edit his work. (A. Lincoln by Ron White.) In Lincoln’s words, “I can always tell more about a thing after I’ve heard it read aloud, and know how it sounds.” (Page 584) Professional writers understand this and recommend reading prose aloud. I find that if I’m struggling with a sentence or paragraph, reading it aloud will help me focus on what’s wrong with it. My rule of thumb is that if it sounds good it probably is good; and conversely, if it sounds bad it probably is bad. Try it the next time you can’t seem to fix a chunk of text. Or better yet, ask yourself, is that text necessary at all?
Posted on November 3, 2009 by James R. Covington
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