Monday, November 21, 2016

Write The Way You Speak

Many assume that writing and speaking are two very different skill-sets. In Week Seven of my Drafting Against The Dark Arts' class, I set out to debunk that myth.

(Don't miss lessons from Week One, Week Two, Week Three, Week Four, Week Five and Week Six!).

And no ENGLISH TEACHERS allowed!

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You should the write the way you speak.

Sounds absurd, doesn’t it? Isn’t writing and speaking two different forms of communication? Isn’t this workshop itself divided into drafting and advocacy?

Yes, there are skills you will learn in advocacy which are exclusive to it (like articulation and intonation). But by and large, both writing and speaking share many principles in common (for example, using punctuations for pauses, and using the active voice instead of the passive voice).

Today, let me explain why you should write the same way you speak, and then how to do it.

Why You Should Do It?

The written word, and the spoken word, both serves the same purpose. To convey a message, to tell a story, and hopefully, to start a conversation.

We assume that the written form has to be long and formal. But that’s the past, that’s old school thinking. Scratch that thought.

Good writing is like a good speech – it’s effective, engaging, and emotive.

Why do kids love listening to bedtime stories? Because words come alive when they are spoken.

Why does Shakespeare sound so alien to us (including myself)? Because that’s how people spoke in the medieval ages, and language has since evolved into today’s lingo.

Why do we love Lord Denning so much? Because he can explain complex legal concepts in plain and simple English, that even a high-school kid can understand.

Your English teachers will tell you to use this style for writing, and that style for speaking. Don’t listen to them. They’re like Jon Snow; they know nothing. If they knew something, they would be writing epic novels like Game Of Thrones.

Write like you’re talking, like you’re telling a story, like you’re making conversation.

Write to make your reader fall in love with you.

Shall I compare you to a #TGIF night of Netflix and chill?

How To Do It?

When you write something down, read it out aloud. How do the words sound in your ears? If they’re messy and hard to follow, then use simpler words. Can’t finish a sentence in a single breath? Then consider cutting it short, or employing commas.

You may be thinking: “I’m writing a legal submission, for God’s sake! How to simplify?”

Of course, you can! Denning can do it, why not you? Lawyers from the US, UK and Australia have long switched to a conversational writing style. Only English teachers – and law lecturers who don’t get out much – are still stuck in the Shakespearean era.

Use the active voice, not the passive voice. In your submission, don’t write: “It is respectfully submitted by the Defendant that a grave mistake has been committed by the Plaintiff.” Did you even catch that? Instead, write: “We submit that the Plaintiff has made a grave mistake.” Much clearer, and more powerful, isn’t it? The active voice always is. Keep it short and sweet, make it simple and snappy. Write sentences more or less the same way you would say them in front of the judge’s face.

If you’re a good writer, you’re just a few steps away from being a good speaker. Articulation and intonation – those are techniques that can be picked up with proper practice. Stage fright can be vanquished too. Good writers make good speakers.

Best speakers have the best words.


There should not be much difference between the way you write, and the way you speak. Anything you write down on a piece of paper should be pleasing to the eyes, and to the ears. A good writer makes sweet music out of words.

So let your words sing. So write the way you speak.

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