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An interesting new book — Roy Peter Clark’s “How To Write Short” — suggests some new ideas for persuasive, written advocacy.

The author maintains that there is a new world of social media out there.   The rules have changed — a lot.

  •  Edit your work with a tweet in mind.  Make sure the final version of your writing contains some memorable line which can get posted, shared, tweeted, and re-tweeted.
  •  In the digital age, short writing is king. The challenge is to write something that makes the reader, stop, consider, and think… in a world seemingly accelerating faster and faster.
  •  Use lists. If a draft is littered with disjointed insights, transforming it into a list can provide a thread which pulls the reader through complex matters.   In addition, a list makes for a relaxed, visual environment on the page.
  •  Consider what headline would go atop your work if you were writing a newspaper article.  Thinking of a “good headline” is useful to catch the attention of the modern reader who is busy scanning a variety of communications.
  •  Be brief.  As reviewer Carlos Lozada comments, the Hippocratic oath, Psalm 23, Lord’s Prayer, Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, the Preamble to the Constitution, Gettysburg Address, and the final paragraph of Martin Luther King Jr’s. “I have a dream” speech total less  than 1,000 words together.


Effective papers — whether to a court, convening authority, or a commander —   can benefit from following 20 suggestions. Remember, your goal is to convince decision-makers that they want to rule your way. Show them how.

  1. Be brief;  if the document is too long, it will not be read carefully and your points may go unappreciated.
  2. Avoid legalese,
  3. Write so that the decision-maker can simply say “do it” and adopt your language.
  4. Make it easy to find the sources, regulations, and authorities cited.
  5. Use subheadings to persuade — not just to break up the text.  Example: “12 Reasons To Grant Clemency” is far better than “Argument.”
  6.  Find a theme – a point of view from which the entire argument is made.
  7. Find something to get a little angry about.
  8. Open with a bang.
  9. Close with something sharp and emphatic.
  10. Make it easy to read – Consider: average number of words per sentence; shorter paragraphs; italics, underlines, and bold – but not to excess; powerful verbs; the use of boxed  materials or grayscale.
  11. Keep psychology in mind — what “bait” is most effective for your reader?
  12. Appeal to fair play and due process.
  13. Avoid personalities.  Rhetorical denunciation is counterproductive – it can irritate but never persuade.
  14. Consider what “the other side” will say against you.  Counter it..
  15. Deal with the underlying philosophy or value favoring your side.
  16. Consider three aspects of the situation — procedure, substance, and policy. In lay terms, that can be broken down to the following:
  •  Procedural due process:  I’m entitled to something

under the regulation and I’m not getting it.

  • Substantive due process: It isn’t fair.
  • Public policy: This is the right thing to do.

        17. Get a non-lawyer to read and comment.

18. Do something to make it easy for the reader to absorb difficult data.   An appendix, chart,    or computerized drawing in color can work marvels.

19. Write clearly and to the point – just as you might pitch it orally.  One possible technique is to use a Dragonspeak or other voice recognition device and “talk it into your computer” before morning coffee and while your subconscious is arguably in charge   Wake up, and edit…

20. Try for something unpredictable.   As a senior judge on the Air Force court, I once reviewed a case involving a young airman who’d taken liberties with a young woman  at the on-base swimming pool.   For touching her inappropriately, he received a bad conduct discharge.  A bright appellate defense counsel, seeking to minimize the airman’s aggressive behavior, took a song made famous in the movie Casablanca and wrote:

“Remember,  Your Honor, a kiss is just a kiss, a thigh is just a thigh.”

Out of hundreds of cases which reached my desk, I remember this one, years later.

 (By the way, my  draft decision — which did NOT see print — responded with the next line from the song:  ”The fundamental things of life apply as time goes by.  BCD affirmed.”

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