Weekly Writing Tip 1: Clarity of Expression

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  1. Hazal

    Hazal Legendary Member
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    Clarity of expression in vacation scheme and training contract applications is a must if you want to stand out from the crowd. It’s brilliant if you have a lot of work experience and you participate in many extra-curricular activities, but if you can’t present them well to Graduate Recruitment then they are pointless on their own. In addition, when answering questions such as “please outline the reasons why you want to work for us” or “what challenges are affecting the legal profession today”, you need to be able to 1) sell your interest (if applicable) and 2) hook your reader. A lot of this is to do with how clear and persuasive you are with your language. This post will aim to give you the tips and tricks needed to get closer to that kind of writing.

    1) Get straight to the point and state it clearly

    A habit I’ve picked up this year that helps me cut down word-count and sound assertive is to get straight to the point with my answers. For example, if a question asks me to construct an argument, I will begin my answer by signposting what I will say next.

    For example:

    upload_2019-2-12_20-42-44.png

    This allows the reader to know exactly what you’re saying from the start and holds their attention, as they want to know how you’re going to support the points you’ve made. It also helps with motivation for writing. If you don’t know where to start when writing, it allows you to prepare yourself for the argument itself – just ask yourself, what exactly are my points?

    I will do the same with my work experience:

    upload_2019-2-12_20-42-44.png

    The whole point of this section is for Grad Rec to see if you have proof of transferrable skills. It’s important to dumb down what you’ve done in the past to the skills you got from them. If word count allows, you should also relate it back to a career in law.

    2) Don’t be afraid to write short sentences and paragraphs

    Word count will often make you trim down how you naturally write (or how you have been groomed to write in university essays). Similar to my point above, short sentences will be your saving grace in these applications. Not only are they persuasive because they make you sound assertive or confident, they save you space. Use them in your extra-curricular sections, when you’re trying to cram all the great things you’ve been up to:

    upload_2019-2-12_20-42-44.png

    This is a paragraph in and of itself and stands well without further explanation. I reserve such paragraphs to those activities I didn’t necessarily have a large role in or were passive activities for me. Having said that, the second sentence is rather long and I might have been able to cut it further. However, don’t let that put you off long sentences, which can serve you well in some situations. A rule of thumb: don’t use too many complex sentences, one after the other. Split up your writing into simple, compound and complex sentences to allow for smooth reading.

    3) Simple language

    Similarly, keep an eye out for verbose words, as well as redundant words. By verbose, I mean language that sounds clever but doesn’t fit naturally into everyday language. For example, “relish” and “burgeoning” (which I embarrassingly used in one application). Additionally, redundant words might include “very”, “quite”, “undoubtedly”, “likely” and “truly”, among others. These words are not your friends – they might make the sentence sound better but they’re eating up valuable space (that will be vital for point 4 below).

    Here’s an example of how additional words can be cut down:

    Meaningful words in bold:

    When I started my own business, it gave me a whole new perspective and allowed me to see the bigger picture when it came to finding a work/life balance.

    Clear and concise version:

    Starting my own business has given me a new perspective on work/life balance.

    4) Use a structure to your arguments

    It’s easy to waffle on in our answers and, personally, I allow myself to waffle before going back to edit. I find that allows me to write a lot more naturally than if I were forcing myself to always be concise and to-the-point.

    However, it is helpful to always have a structure in mind when constructing an answer/argument. This might be common sense, but don’t lose sight of what your secondary/high school taught you in English, use the PEEE/PEER/PIE method. That is:

    P – Point (state it clearly)

    E – Example (what examples back up your point)

    E – Explanation (expand on those examples, why do they support your point?)

    R – Resolution (Tie-up your argument by saying why it matters/how it relates to the question)

    I find it is easy to lose sight of a structure when you are writing about why law/why xyz firm especially, because you forget to 1) explain your exact interest in, for example, project development and 2) when you back it up with an example, you don’t expand on that example, you just state it as a fact. For instance, compare the first draft below to another beneath it:

    upload_2019-2-12_20-42-44.png

    upload_2019-2-12_20-42-44.png

    Although the first application got me through, I can see that I used an example and assumed my reader would understand the point I was trying to make, as there is no clear association with the project having an impact on economic growth. Part of this is to do with feeling restricted by the word count but I believe it can be done. My second answer for Shearman (the outcome of which I do not know yet) I believe is a stronger example of not just why I’m interested in emerging markets, but a clear example of my interest playing out in one of the firm’s deals.


    Although writing is not necessarily the most important skill you must grasp as a lawyer, it is one of the only skills you are currently demonstrating to the recruiter (everything else they will have to take you at your word – therefore, your word is very important). Don’t be disheartened if it doesn’t come easily as you will develop with practice.

    Bonus Tip: If you’re really committed to developing better writing and you’re still at uni, join your newspaper society and write for them casually. It will do wonders for your confidence with writing and you’ll probably get feedback along the way. Win-win!
     
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