Lawyers use some precise terms that sometimes look clunky in actual writing. If you don’t want to sound like a lawyer, don’t write like you’re writing a contract. Here are some legalisms to avoid.
Logicians (and ordinary humans) know that “or” doesn’t exclude the possibility of “and.” Examples from actual text I’m editing.
- “When you and/or your team master this skill, the rest will come naturally.” Just say “you or your team.”
- “When presenting to a live or on-line audience, have a clear hook—a statement of purpose, and/or a striking snippet.” Just say “or.” It’s obvious you can have both, if you want.
- “Add growth via mergers, acquisitions and/or recruiting.” Or you could write, “Add growth via any combination of mergers, acquisitions, and recruiting.”
It might be singular. It might be plural. But denoting both possibilities with “(s)” just makes you sound like a pedant.
- “Gather relevant information on potential partners and zero in on the one(s) that can best support you.” In this passage, the point is to restrict yourself to one or two. So write like a human: “zero in on the one or two that can best support you.”
- “This demonstrated a lack of clarity regarding who was responsible for which step(s) in the process.” Isn’t “who was responsible for which steps in the process” just as clear?
- “I’ll outline dozens of ways to craft the most effective words to light up the brains of your listener(s).” Just say “listeners.” Would any reader think this doesn’t apply if you only have one listener?
Including but not limited to
In non-legal contexts, everyone knows that “including” doesn’t exclude any other terms.
- “This standard applies to all physical and virtual devices that connect to the network or handle proprietary information, including but not limited to laptops, desktops, tablets, cellular phones, and smartphones.” Just say “including laptops, desktops, tablets, cellular phones, and smartphones” — if someone considers another device, it will clearly be included as well. Or simpler, write “all computers, phones and other physical and virtual devices that connect to the network or handle proprietary information.”
- “Measuring a company’s true ESG character is challenged by several factors including but not limited to, a lack of industry standardization, rating agency biases and company transparency.” Or as a human would write it, “factors such as a lack of industry standardization, rating agency biases and company transparency.” Or, if you like active voice, “Factors such as lack of industry standardization, rating agency biases and company transparency make it challenging to measure a company’s true ESG character.”
In order to
Just say “to.” Works every time.
- “You need to identify your highest value systems, applications, and data in order to focus your efforts on what matters most to your organization.” Better: “Identify your highest value systems, applications, and data to focus your efforts on what matters most to your organization.”
- “Macro uncertainty and volatility has led our customers – businesses across segments and regions – to scrutinize and slow investments in order to preserve business outcomes and protect shareholder returns.” First edit: “Macro uncertainty and volatility has led our customers – businesses across segments and regions – to scrutinize and slow investments to preserve business outcomes and protect shareholder returns.” Or, for actual speakers of English, “In the face of economic uncertainty and volatility, our customers are cutting costs to preserve profits.”
Don’t be influenced by contractual jargon
Legal language has conventions for a reason: misinterpretation can lead to costly errors. But you’re not writing for a future judge adjudicating a contract, you’re writing for an audience that wants meaning right now. Just say “or,” “including,” and “to,” and ditch the unnatural “(s).” These legalisms draw attention to themselves and make readers wonder why you’re treating them like an adversary in a court case.