Commonly Confused Words: A Couple, A Few, Some, Several, or Many?

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In three previous posts (here, here, and here), I’ve addressed some commonly confused words and how to choose the one that expresses what you really mean. Talking about those posts with some friends prompted this one: what’s the difference between a couple, few, some, several, or many? For example, if someone tells you have a few options, how many do you have? Three? Four? More?

 

A couple: Everyone seems to agree that “a couple” means two. If you have a couple of options, you can safely assume that you will have to choose between A and B, and only A and B.

 

A Few: Here’s where things tend to get confusing. Read more »

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The Importance of Document Design

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Jim Dimitri’s article, WordWise:  Best Practices in Document Design, is a must read for any lawyer interested in taking advantage of document design in drafting legal documents. Dimitri advises that a writer should “use the most readable font” and “use effective vertical and horizontal spacing” in designing a legal document. Dimitri’s article is useful not only for the advice he gives, but because he defines key concepts in document design, such as monospaced fonts (which “use the same width for each letter”) and proportionally spaced fonts (which use “different widths for different letters”). Dimitri suggests that a writer use proportionally spaced fonts because they are easier to read.

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Cut It Out

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EditingKnow how and when to cut words from your sentences during the editing process?  Here are some links to help.

Bryan Garner’s April 2014 ABA Journal magazine article provides a good list of unnecessary phrases.  Garner recommends “axing” words like “herein” from legal documents.

WordRake is an editing program that allows you to upload a document and receive line edits on concision and clarity.  This blog tested the program on some sample Supreme Court authority with favorable results.  Also check out the WordRake blog for editing advice.

One easy starting point for editing is to look for and eliminate “there is” and “it is” from your sentences.  These phrases add meaningless fluff at the most important point of a sentence—the beginning—and often signal the passive voice and nominalizations.  This blog suggests ways to streamline your writing by eliminating “there is” and “it is” (or the past tense version) or phrases like “given the fact that” or “in light of the fact that.”

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Storytelling for Lawyers

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An excellent primer on narrative theory for lawyer-storytellers has now appeared. I refer to Philip N. Meyer’s recently published Storytelling for Lawyers (Oxford University Press, 2014), which is available in Kindle, hardcover and paperback versions.

Meyer convincingly makes the point that much of what lawyers do is storytelling. Whether they are presenting cases in the courtroom or representing clients in contract negotiations, lawyers tell stories. Furthermore, a lawyer’s success depends to a surprising extent on his or her skills as a storyteller.

Meyer suggests lawyers’ stories are relatively straightforward and more like those in Hollywood movies than those in literary novels. However, all stories—simple or complex—include a setting, characters, a plot, a point of view, and a narrative voice. Meyer demonstrates how conscious attention to each of these components can improve a story.

I found especially interesting Meyer’s observation that careful crafting of a story’s beginning greatly improves the likelihood of a story’s conclusion being effective and convincing. He illustrates this point with insightful commentaries on the closing arguments offered by Jeremiah Donovan on behalf of Louis Failla and Gerry Spence on behalf of Karen Silkwood.

Overall, Meyer’s book is a great story about lawyers telling stories. He brings his lawyer-storytellers to life and critiques their narrative efforts with great delight. I welcomed his reminder that the best lawyers can be and are artists.

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Even More Commonly Confused Words

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Below are just a few more commonly confused words, with those post adding to this one and this one on the same topic.

Although/while – A former student recently asked me about this combination. There isn’t, as far as I can tell, a hard and fast rule on when to use each of these terms, but there may be preferred usage, and that’s what I’ll explain here.  “Although” tends to mean “in spite of the fact that.” According to Mignon Fogarty, also known as Grammar Girl, “although” is called a concessive conjunction, which means that it expresses a concession. For example, Although he admits he saw her in the crosswalk, he drove through the intersection anyway.

“While” can also mean “in spite of the fact that,” but it can also mean “at the same time.” The same sentence with the word “while” instead of “although” now has one of two different meanings. While he admits he saw her in the crosswalk, he drove through the intersection anyway. In that construction, the sentence could mean that in spite of the fact that he saw her in the crosswalk, he chose to keep driving through the intersection. This sentence might imply some indifference on the driver’s part, which may (or may not) matter to the meaning of the sentence. This same sentence could also mean that at the same time that he saw her in the crosswalk, he drove through the intersection. Perhaps there’s less driver indifference with that construction.  “While” meaning “at the same time” is more clearly illustrated in this sentence: While Patrick raked the lawn, I cleaned the windows. In that sentence, the reader more clearly gets the sense that Patrick and I are each doing two separate tasks at the same time.

The difference between “although” and “while” may be slight, but when you’re striving for precision in your writing, you might be wise to choose “although” when you’re making a concession and “while” when you really mean “at the same time.”   Read more »

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MULS to Welcome Professor Linda Edwards in Fall 2014

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faculty_lindaedwards2014-04Marquette University Law School’s legal writing professors are pleased to announce that Professor Linda Edwards, E.L. Cord Foundation Professor of Law at University of Nevada Las Vegas, will be joining us as a Boden Visiting Professor for the fall semester of 2014.

Professor Edwards is a leading scholar and leader in the field of legal writing.  She has authored five texts, three of them focused on legal writing, and has written numerous scholarly articles on legal writing, rhetoric, and law. Her recent book, Readings in Persuasion: Briefs that Changed the World (Aspen Law & Bus. 2012) will serve as the basis for the advanced legal writing seminar she will be teaching at MULS next fall. The book discusses why some briefs are more compelling than others and covers briefs written in some of the law’s most foundational cases: Muller v. Oregon (the Brandeis Brief), Brown v. Board of Education, Miranda v. Arizona, Furman v. Georgia, Loving v. Virginia, and others. Professor Edwards says the course will build on what students learned in Legal Analysis, Writing & Research 2, but from a more advanced perspective.

Professor Edwards practiced law for 11 years before becoming the coordinator of NYU’s Lawyering Program. She then spent 19 years at Mercer University School of Law, where she was the director of legal writing and taught legal reasoning and advanced legal writing, as well as property, employment discrimination, and professional responsibility. In 2009, she joined the faculty at UNLV.  Also in 2009, Professor Edwards was awarded the Association of Legal Writing Directors and Legal Writing Institute’s Thomas Blackwell Award for her lifetime achievements and contributions to the legal writing field.

We are very excited to welcome Professor Edwards next fall.

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More Commonly Confused Words

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Nearly two weeks ago, I posted about some commonly confused words and how to choose the right one. Since then, I’ve had a few people ask about other commonly confused words, so I’ve compiled another list with suggestions for choosing the right word.

A/An/The – These three little words are called articles.  Some languages do not have articles, so when speakers of those languages learn to write in English, they also need to learn when to use each of these articles.  “A” and “an” are indefinite articles; that is, the noun that appears after them could refer to any ol’ thing, nothing definite. “The,” on the other hand, is a definite article. When a noun appears after “the,” the writer means for you to know that that noun is something specific.  For example, if I write, A court would hold the defendant liable, I’m saying any court, not a specific court, would hold the defendant liable. But if I write, The court would hold the defendant liable, I mean that a specific court would hold him liable, and which court that is would likely be clear from the context of the sentence in a larger document. As well, in both examples above, I’ve used the defendant, meaning a specific defendant about whom I am writing.

One other thing to note: “An” is used before nouns that begin with a vowel (a, e, i, o, u) or words that sound like they begin with a vowel, even if they don’t. An example would be: An honest person would return an item she found that didn’t belong to her. In that sentence, “honest” gets an “an” before it, even though it doesn’t begin with a vowel, but it sounds like it does. “Item” does begin with a vowel and gets an “an.” Conversely, some words that begin with vowels get “a” before them because they sound like they begin with consonants. E.g., There’s a one-hour delay for my flight.

Counsel/Council – In short, law students will become “counsel” when they become lawyers. This is because they will counsel their clients. They may also be called “Counselor.”  “Council” is a governing body of some sort, like a city council. A member of that governing body would be a councillor. Read more »

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Congratulations to the 2014 Jenkins Honors Moot Court Competition Winners

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Congratulations to the winners of the 2014 Jenkins Honors Moot Court Competition, Jennifer McNamee and Elizabeth Oestreich. Congratulations also go to finalists Amy Heart and Frank Remington, as well as Brian Kane and Amanda Luedtke, who won the Franz C. Eschweiler Prize for Best Brief.  Amy Heart won the Ramon A. Klitzke Prize for Best Oralist.

The competitors argued before a packed Appellate Courtroom. Presiding over the final round were Hon. Diurmuid O’Scannlain, Hon. Annette Ziegler, and Hon. Anne Burke.

Many thanks to the judges and competitors for their hard work, enthusiasm, and sportsmanship in all the rounds of competition, as well as to the moot court executive board and Law School administration and staff for their work in putting on the event. Special thanks to Dean Kearney for his support of the competition.

Students are selected to participate in the competition based on their success in the fall Appellate Writing and Advocacy class at the Law School.  Here is a link to the video of the competition.

 

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Congratulations to the 2014 Jenkins Honors Moot Court Competition Finalists

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Congratulations to this year’s Jenkins Honors Moot Court Competition finalists: Amy Heart, Jennifer McNamee, Elizabeth Oestreich, and Frank Remington. All the competitors presented strong oral arguments tonight.

Thank you to the judges of the semifinal round: Hon. Michael Bohren, Hon. G. Michael Halfenger, Hon. Donald Hassin, Hon. Nancy Joseph, Hon. Joan Kessler, Hon. JoAnne Kloppenburg.

The final round will be held on Wednesday, April 2 at 6:00 p.m. in the Appellate Courtroom. The teams will be matched as follows:

Team 2, Jennifer McNamee and Elizabeth Oestreich v. Team 8, Amy Heart and Frank Remington.

Best of luck to the finalists.

 

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Congratulations to the 2014 Jenkins Honors Moot Court Semifinalists

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Congratulations to this year’s Jenkins Honors Moot Court Competition semifinalists: Tyler Coppage, Amy Heart, Brian Kane, Amanda Luedtke, Jennifer McNamee, Elizabeth Oestreich, Frank Remington, and Derek Waterstreet. Teams are advancing after four rounds of preliminary competition.

Thank you to the numerous judges who graded briefs and heard oral arguments, as well as to all the competitors, who prepared hard for the competition and fought good battles this weekend.

The semifinal round will be held on Thursday, March 27 at 6:00 p.m. The teams will be matched as follows:

Tyler Coppage and Derek Waterstreet v. Jennifer McNamee and Elizabeth Oestreich will argue in the Appellate Courtroom.

Brian Kane and Amanda Luedtke v. Amy Heart and Frank Remington will argue in the Trial Courtroom.

The teams will argue before a panel of judges, including Hon. Michael Bohren; Hon. G. Michael Halfenger; Hon. Donald Hassin; Hon. Nancy Joseph; Hon. Joan Kessler; and Hon. JoAnne Kloppenburg.

Good luck to the semifinalists.

 

 

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Commonly Confused Words: Knowing When to Choose the Right One

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Even as we add more official (and some might say questionable) words to our dictionaries—like selfie, twerk, sexting, and LOL—we sometimes seem to have a difficult time knowing when to use some of the basic words that have been around forever. Below are some commonly confused words, their meanings, and their proper use.

That/Which/Who – Probably the most commonly confused combination.  Misuse of “that” and “which” proliferate nearly every judicial opinion students read, which adds to the confusion.  Also, of late, I’ve noticed that students are dropping the use of “who” altogether and using “which” instead in places that make their writing grammatically incorrect.  So let’s take a look at each of these words. Read more »

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2014 Jenkins Honors Moot Court Competition Preliminary Rounds

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Let the March Madness begin!

This weekend, the nine Jenkins Honors Moot Court Competition teams will compete in four preliminary rounds at Eckstein Hall. The rounds will be held on March 22nd at 10:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., and on March 23rd at 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Law students are invited to attend any of the rounds and should plan to arrive to the round at least five minutes before the round begins.  Attending a round of competition is a great way for students to learn more about moot court and study oral advocacy techniques.  Students–come and cheer on your friends and classmates.

Thank you to Brittany Kachingwe, Associate Justice of Intramural Competitions, and the Moot Court Board for their work in organizing the competition.  Best of luck to this year’s competitors!

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