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Wayne Schiess

I recently read your interview of Dr. Gopen, and I'd like to comment. I teach legal writing. I was troubled by a certain passage in which he declared that our writing teachers give us bad advice. Apparently, I'm one of the them. I've inserted my comment:

Almost all the advice we got from our writing teachers is wrong:

"Avoid the passive." Wrong.
COMMENT: So does Dr. Gopen recommend the passive voice? The dry, deadening, lifeless passive voice that pervades legal writing?

"To make it better, make it shorter." Wrong.
COMMENT: I disagree. Shorter is almost always better.

"Write the way you speak." Wrong.
COMMENT: I never got this advice, I've never heard this advice, and I never give this advice. Seems like a straw argument.

"Vary the way you begin your sentences to keep your reader interested." Wrong.
COMMENT: I've never heard this either. Do writing teachers really give this advice? Or is this a straw argument?

"Always begin your paragraph with a topic sentence that states the issue and point of the paragraph." Wrong.
COMMENT: Dr. Gopen inserted the word "always" to make this one easy to knock down. Take the word "always" out and put in "generally."

Even the advice in that delightful classic, Strunk & White's Elements of Style, cannot help you write better. "Avoid needless words"? How do you know which are "needless"?
COMMENT: The assertion that The Elements of Style cannot help you write better is demonstrably false because it has already helped many people write better. And as for "omit needless words," how should I react to this sentence I recently received from one of my students? "The witness acted as if he were not all completely there." The advice to omit needless words seems to apply, no?

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