Get More TLC: #13: What did you decide?

Last edition I asked you to define a party. What did you decide? If you’re a child it probably involves games, a slice of cake and a party bag. If you’re an adult it might involve drinks, music and nibbles. Neither party should involve any talk about work!

A white small dog sits on a bench wearing a conical party hat. On the table is a piece of birthday cake and the dog appears to be smiling, slightly maniacally. There are other items on the table to show that this is a party.

Talk Like Children

I am currently working on a project to simplify the terms and conditions for a global corporate. The principles agreed with the client include:

  • using digits not words for numbers
  • conversational tone ie ‘you’ as provider and ‘we’ as client
  • must or will instead of shall (due to its ambiguity in translation)
  • removing/minimising defined terms.

When I see a word with a capital such as Agreement, Parties, or the definition of an ordinary word like ‘month’ or year’, my skin starts to crawl a little. I regularly ask lawyers to rewrite a single clause to simplify it – and often they make it shorter by creating new definitions. Some of the defined terms are only used in that clause so are utterly pointless and make it much harder to read.

Using defined terms and jargon seems to have become hard-wired as necessary. For example, in my writing workshop for delay experts, I created a fictional opening to an expert report used for court proceedings:

I, Robert Tulkinghorn LLB(Hons), MSc, PhD, FRICS, FCIArb, have been retained by Instructing solicitors Kenge and Carboy LLP (“Instructing solicitors”), solicitors for Jarndyce Contractors Ltd (“Jarndyce” or “the Respondent”) to produce this report on quantum in relation to claims and disputes between Chancery Lane Joint Venture Ltd and Greener Energy (“Claimant” or “Joint Venture”) and Jarndyce.”

My audience of delay experts failed to see anything wrong with it! Yet this is exactly this sort of writing that brings professional writing into disrepute. We may not be well-loved authors like Rowling, orators like Jobs, or political figures like Merkel, but we still need to have the same impact with a wide-ranging audience. We need to talk like we are talking to children.