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Report on

Legal Writing

FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES
OF
EFFECTIVE WRITING

Submitted by:

Gerald C. Castaeda
JD 102

Submitted to:

Fiscal Bernardino Juan Almeda

FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES OF EFFECTIVE WRITING


There are three primary principles of good writing: unity, coherence
and emphasis.

There is unity in a sentence when it expresses a single complete


thought:

1. The Philippines is a democratic state.


2. The separation of Church and State shall be inviolable.

Combining related thoughts in one sentence does not violate the


principle of unity. This is true in compound sentences where two clauses
expressing two related ideas form one sentence:

1. The Government may call upon the people to defend the State
and, in the fulfillment thereof, all citizens may be required, under
conditions provided by law, to render personal military or civil
service.

2. Excessive fines shall not be imposed, nor cruel degrading or


inhuman punishment inflicted.

Sometimes, the writer may want to subordinate one of two or more


ideas of equal importance in order to give emphasis to the other idea. This
can be done by using a relative pronoun (who, that, or which) or the proper
connective (while, because, even, if, etc.) What results is a complex sentence
with a principal clause and a subordinate clause. Still, unity in the sentence
is preserved by means of the subordination:

1. To defend the State, the Government may call upon all citizens, who
may be required, under conditions provided by law, to render
personal military or civil service.

2. Under the 1973 Constitution and under the 1986 Constitution,


female citizens may retain their Filipino citizenship even if they
marry aliens.

The main ideas expressed in two independent clauses may have


subordinate ideas in dependent clauses. The sentence becomes a compound
complex sentence where the principle of unity is still preserved, provided the
ideas are related.

1. If the President approves a bill, he shall sign it; otherwise, he shall


veto it and return the same with his objections to the house where it
originated.
The ideas in the above example may be expressed in separate
sentences, as follows:

The President may approve a bill. He should then sign it. On the other
hand, he may veto it. In that case, he should return it with the objections to
the house where it originated.

It can be readily noted that the compound complex sentences in the


example given is simpler; it shows a much better unity than the separate
sentence above. It can thus be seen from the examples given that long,
periodic sentences can be justified when they result in a better and clearer
flow of ideas. While brevity is desirable, clarity and fluency may sometimes
demand that a long but clear sentence be constructed.

ERRORS DESTROYING UNITY

1. Unity is destroyed when ideas are expressed one from another in an


outpouring of words that leaves the reader almost breathless. This error
results in what is called the run-on sentence:
RUN-ON SENTENCE: The accused was defended by a new
lawyer he had not handled any case up to that
time.

The run-on sentence can be corrected by subordinating the


minor idea to the more important one:
IMPROVED: The accused was defended by a new lawyer
who had not handled any case up to that time.

2. An almost identical error is the comma splice. In this case a comma splices
the disconnected ideas:
The accused was defended by a new lawyer, he had not handled
any case up to that time.

The correction, obviously, is the same as that for the run-on


sentence above.

NOTE: When some degree of separation is necessary between two


ideas, a semicolon should be used:

The Judge appeared sick; he adjourned the hearing in less than


an hour.

3. The rambling sentence includes too many details:


They offered to hold the silver anniversary of our
high school graduation in a little barrio called Malati
which had only about 400 inhabitants but which has
a supermarket, two churches, One Catholic and the
other Aglipayan, and a paper factory owned by one
of our former classmates.

IMPROVED: They offered to hold the silver anniversary of our


high school graduation in a little barrio called Malati
which had only about 400 inhabitants. However, it
has a supermarket, two churches, one Catholic and
the other Aglipayan. In addition, it had a paper
factory owned by one of our former classmates.

4. Unrelated or incongruous ideas in the same sentence should be avoided:

WRONG: The mango trees were growing fast and she had
bought the young plants from the San Andres
nursery.
BETTER: The mango trees were growing fast. She recalled that
she had bought the seedlings from the San Andres
nursery.

As previously noted, unrelated ideas, if not incongruously


unrelated, can be placed in one sentence by subordinating the minor ideas.
Otherwise, they should be placed in another sentence or paragraph.

COHERENCE REINFORCES UNITY

The logical relationship of all the parts of the sentence is called


coherence. This logical relationship can also be established between
paragraphs. Such relationship between sentences and between paragraphs
is usually achieved by means of the proper connectives.

Reference:

Francisco O. Javines, LEGAL WRITING: Logic and Language in Law


COHERENCE IN SENTENCES

A sentence has coherence when

1. The antecedent of a pronoun, whether personal, relative or indefinite is


clearly referred to.
CONFUSING: The counsel for the accused explained what he
meant to the prosecutor and they realized that he
was right. (To whom does the pronoun they refer?)
IMPROVED: The counsel for the accused explained what he
meant to the prosecutor and both the judge and the
prosecutor realized that the counsel for the accused
was right.

2. Dangling modifiers are avoided by placing them as close as possible to the


words they modify.

FUNNY: The box fell on the secretarys head which was


fortunately empty.
RIGHT: The box which was fortunately empty fell on the
secretarys head.
WRONG: Outlined in the semidarkness, he thought the pair of
pajamas as burglar and he fired killing the victim
unintentionally.
BETTER: He thought that the pair of pajamas outlined in the
semidarkness was a burglar and he fired killing the
victim unintentionally.

3. Sentence elements (subject, verb, direct object, etc.) are placed as close to
each other as possible. For example, adverbs like merely, nearly, exactly,
quite, only, just, scarcely and almost, will cause misunderstanding and even
a lawsuit when they are not placed next to the words they modify.

Meaning not intended:


She is not my only friend.
Meaning intended:
She is not my only friend.

4. The sentence with an indefinite It is reconstructed so that its impersonal use


results in a clear reference.
It used impersonally and awkwardly:
It says in the papers that the President of the World Bank has
found improvement in the economic condition of the Philippines.
It avoided and the sentence made clear:

The papers carry a story that the President of the World Bank has
found improvement in the economic condition of the Philippines.

5. Definitions should be made using words of the same part of speech as the
word being defined.

Poor and illogical construction:


Distortion in labor wages is to increase lower wages so that they
equal those of the workers receiving higher wages which are not
increased.
Improved by using a noun, distortion being a noun:
Distortion is an increase in lower wages such that they equal
etc.

6. When conjunctions join words, the latter should be of the same part of
speech or of the same rank or structure.

CORRECT AND LOGICAL AWKWARD AND ILLOGICAL

That man and that woman He enjoyed listening to the


radio
are meant for each other. and in the Luneta.

The phrase is clear and correct. She bought rice and what she
needed
for one week.

Ants were found under the He visited her upon his return and
table and on the desk. bringing expensive gifts.

7. Comparisons, to be logical, should be of the same things or of the same class


of persons. Students should be compared with students, books with books.
Parallelisms are made with parallel structures through repetition.
WRONG: Of all law schools, Adamson students may be the only ones
who attend the so-called executive class.
BETTER: Of all law schools, the Adamson College of Law may be the
only one that offers the so-called executive class.

8. Verb phrases, auxiliaries, articles, prepositions, etc. placed before sentence


elements that are parallel in structure, should be repeated if, without them,
the parallelism is not clear.
BAD: Students should be informed of school rules and asked to
obey them.
BETTER: Students should be informed of school rules and should be
asked to obey them.

9. Unnecessary shift or change in grammatical person should be avoided. This


is very common error.
BAD: The 1987 Constitution is said to be wordy. You may note
that the 1935 Constitution has only five sections in its
Declaration of Principles; the same is true with the 1973
Constitution, but there are 28 in the 1987 Constitution.
BETTER: The 1987 Constitution is said to be wordy. The 1935
Constitution has only five sectionsetc.

The change or shift in the first sentence above is from the third
person (The 1987 Constitution) to the second person (you). Shifts from the
second to the first, from the third to the first or from any other grammatical
person to another, results in a similar violation of the principle of coherence.
However, shifts that are necessary because they are required by a given
situation, preserved rather than violate the principle of coherence.

HOW EMPHASIS CAN BE ACHIEVED

Emphasis, as a quality or a principle in a written composition,


means stressing or giving importance to some ideas and subordinating
others. This can be achieved in several ways.

1. By placing the idea intended to be emphasized in a prominent position. The


two positions of prominence in a sentence, in a paragraph, and even in a
composition are the beginning and the end. We can readily see this in the
Preamble of the Constitution:
We, the sovereign Filipino people, imploring the aid of Almighty
God, in order to build a just and humane societyunder the rule of
law and regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality, and peace,
do ordain and promulgate this Constitution.
2. By giving more space or length to the portion intended to be emphasized. It
is obvious that more words to give stress to an idea, but not too much,
however, to make the writing wordy.

3. By placing the idea to be emphasized in the principal clause.


If the President-elect fails to qualify, the Vice-President-elect
shall act as President until the President-elect shall have qualified.

4. By inverting the sentence order. The usual order of the sentence is subject-
verb-direct object, these being the principal parts. A disruption of this order
arrests the attention of the reader. Thus,
A man killed he in the heat of a long argument calls immediate
attention to man while
In the heat of a long argument, he killed a man.

Attracts immediate attention to heat and argument. Of course, in the above


examples, the second sentence is preferable because the sentence avoid an
awkward construction while at the same time giving some stress on the noun
man by placing it in a prominent position, then end of the sentence.
5. By making a balanced statement: stating in a coordinate sentence or in two
separate sentence ideas that are equal or opposite in importance. This
results in emphasizing both while other ideas are subordinated.
He is thrifty; she is spendthrift. But they have a happy life
together.