LawProse Lesson #287: The plague of wordiness.

Lawyers are so accustomed to their own verbosity that they have come to see the word verbiage as just another term for “wording.” In fact verbiage most commonly (and traditionally) connotes a gross surplus of words. (Note also that verbiage has three syllables, not two.)

How bad is verbosity in legal writing? In a typical brief or contract prepared by reputable lawyers, a simple line-edit could typically result in a 25% reduction in the word count—without changing the meaning.

Take this example:

Not this:
The Internal Revenue Code contains numerous methods for challenging errors committed by the Internal Revenue Service and its employees, but it does not contain a provision subjecting IRS employees to personal liability for damages. [34 words]

But this:
Although the tax code contains many methods for challenging IRS errors, imposing personal liability on IRS employees isn’t among them. [20 words]

In Part 2 of Bryan Garner’s forthcoming ten-part webinar series, Legal Writing in Plain English, you’ll learn how to omit needless words and streamline your writing. Three good things happen when you combat verbosity: your readers read faster, you crystallize your thoughts better, and your writing becomes punchier.

Further reading:

Legal Writing in Plain English 24–27 (2d ed. 2013).
The Winning Brief 251–56 (3d ed. 2014).
Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage 924–25 (3d ed. 2011).

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