Reduce big words
Sesquipedalian (sesqui + ped) means a foot and a half long, and it’s exactly the kind of word to avoid. Unless you need a term of art or a legal word, your writing will be more concise and more readable if you use an everyday word instead of a fancy one.
So change ascertain to learn, commence to start, and request to ask.
For more ideas, check out Joseph Kimble’s list (available online) in the Michigan Bar Journal: Joseph Kimble, Plain Words, 80 Mich. B.J. 72 (Aug. 2001).
As you edit, root out words that are ostentatious (fancy), abstruse (hard), and infrequent (rare). Don’t write
She indicated she had previously encountered this conundrum
when you could write
She said she had faced this problem before.
But wait. Lawyers are smart and are used to reading and using sesquipedalian vocabulary. So if we’re capable of handling big words, why should we use small ones? Why should we dumb down our writing?
Let me be clear: to write concisely you don’t need to limit your own vocabulary. In fact, the larger your vocabulary, the better a writer you’re likely to be. As Rudolf Flesch said, it’s not about knowing big words; it’s about using them:
So if you have a big vocabulary and know a lot of rare and fancy words, that’s fine. Be proud of your knowledge. It’s important in reading and in learning. But when it comes to using your vocabulary, don’t throw those big words around where they don’t belong. . . . It’s a good rule to know as many rare words as possible for your reading, but to use as few of them as possible in your writing.
Rudolf Flesch, How to Write Better 25, 35 (1951).
More to come.