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Teaching Writing

OK so attorneys who supervise others: how do you improve the writing of younger lawyers?

Leslie McAdoo Gordon @McAdooGordon: I have them do an analysis of the difference between the draft they gave me & the final work product we sent out to explain how/why the changes improved it. If you just tell them to do that, they don’t get to it. I make them submit it in writing or set a time for them to tell me.

Examples of Good Writing

  • Sondheim:

That "and" is worth a great deal of attention. I would write "Summertime when" but that "and" sets up a tone, a whole poetic tone, not to mention a whole kind of diction that is going to be used in the play; an informal, uneducated diction and a stream of consciousness, as in many of the songs like "My Man's Gone Now". It's the exact right word, and that word is worth its weight in gold. "Summertime when the livin' is easy" is a boring line compared to "Summertime and". The choices of "ands" [and] "buts" become almost traumatic as you are writing a lyric – or should, anyway – because each one weighs so much. Joanne Lesley Gordon, Art Isn't Easy: The Achievement of Stephen Sondheim, Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale, Illinois, 1990, p. 13

Writing and Moral Character

I wonder if the practice of bureaucratic writing dehumanizes the bureaucrat, making him think of his readers as objects rather than people so he becomes willing to ignore, process, and, ultimately, exterminate them. What was Adolf Eichmann's style of writing?


1. Write an essay.

2. Explain to a friend what you said in it.

3. Go back and rewrite it to say what you just said to your friend. 7:49 AM · Mar 28, 2021·Paul Graham .https://twitter.com/paulg/status/1376139287314493447aid to your friend.

Law review footnotes are like econ journal robustness checks. Hardly anybody reads them, and they’re massively long, but it’s good to have them at hand to keep the text honest and answer picky questions.

On September 7th, 1982, Ogilvy sent the following internal memo to all agency employees, titled “How to Write” and found in the 1986 gem The Unpublished David Ogilvy (public library).

The better you write, the higher you go in Ogilvy & Mather. People who think well, write well.

  1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. Read it three times.

  1. Write the way you talk. Naturally. [I will add: aspire to this, sort of. Try to talk the way you write. Most peopel cant talk either, becuase yhey don't think. ]
  1. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
  2. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.
  3. Never write more than two pages on any subject. [???]
  4. Check your quotations.
  5. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning — and then edit it.
  6. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.
  7. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.
  8. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.



  • As an economist, steeped in the idea of Opportunity Cost, I am in total agreement with Strunk and White. Each word must fight for its life. If it doesn't convey meaning, it must die. Especially on Twitter.

Note, however, that the tweet above did not run into the number-of-characters constraint. Thus, the Lagrange multiplier is 0. That is, solving Max Meaning(W) subject to W <= Limit, the constraint was nonbinding. You don't have to use your page limit. Some words subtract meaning.

Tufte idea of destroying "non-data ink" is the same as Strunk-and-Whiteing. If it doesn't add meaning, it distracts, and thus subtracts meaning.

We have here a good example of how knowing something from one field (Strunk and White) complements things from other fields (Tufte, constrained optimization). Everything is connected. Hegel is right, though the idea is older--Christianity, or maybe even the Greeks. Which Greeks?

Books and Essays and Advice

Hemingway, Didion, Baldwin, Fitzgerald, Sontag, Vonnegut, Bradbury, Morrison, Orwell, Le Guin, Woolf, and other titans of literature."]


"Yours, etc." is a great idea for special uses, combining pomposity with just a touch of rude condescension.

https://twitter.com/yuanyi_z/status/1357074400357601281 and https://twitter.com/LawDavF/status/1356939762574196739

Valedictions are a big problem. We desperately need a convention, especially for emails and phone text messages. We need them as "Over and out" signs.
I unhappily use YT (short for "Yours Truly") and IHS. IHS can mean "In His Service", "In Hoc Signo Vinces", or the Christogram---see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christogram#IHS.
I like triple entendre..
As an economist, it feels good to make words work triple overtime.

Just signed off 'yours faithfully' on a formal email to unnamed person because I was taught at school to do that and leave 'yours sincerely' for known person.

I was taught it the other way around. The logic being: You can be sincere to anybody, but you can only be faithful to somebody you know.

40 years old & was taught this at school - I was told you couldn’t be sincere to someone whose name you didn’t know. While the French ‘Cordialement’ is easy for emails, the formal structures for ending a letter in French are far more complex than Yours F/S.

I was taught the no ‘s’ rule: you can’t use ‘sir’ and ‘sincerely’. So, to Dr Jones I’d sign off with ‘Yours sincerely’ but to Sir, Madam, or Whom it may concern you’d get ‘Yours faithfully’.

I sign my emails off 'with kindest regards' for the lovely people, 'kind regards' for just normal and 'regards' to let somebody know I am incandescent with rage with them

Names in salutations are a problem. I'm 62, and well-known within economics. When should I use (1)"Dear Mr. Smith", when (2) "Dear John (if I may)" and when (3)"Dear John"?

I use (1) for old non-economists; (2) for old economists, even if Nobelworthy; (3) for juniors.

“Stay safe” is the new “Regards” anything else then you are a dinosaur !


Writer's Block

Don't overthink it.

Until after the first draft.

Then think it over.

And over and over and over.

And over.