mercoledì 21 dicembre 2011

Writing in Plain English for lawyers _ LESSON 2

Try personal pronouns
No matter how sophisticated your audience is, if you use personal pro­nouns the clarity of your writing will dramatically improve. Here’s why.
First, personal pronouns aid your reader’s comprehension because they clarify what applies to your reader and what applies to you.
Second, they allow you to “speak” directly to your reader, creating an appealing tone that will keep your reader reading.
Third, they help you to avoid abstractions and to use more concrete and everyday language.
Fourth, they keep your sentences short.
Fifth, first- and second-person pronouns aren’t gender-specific, allowing you to avoid the “he or she” dilemma. The pronouns to use are first­person plural (we, us, our/ours) and second-person singular (you, your/yours).
Observe the difference between these two examples:
This Summary does not purport to be complete and is qualified in its entirety by the more detailed information contained in the Proxy Statement and the Appendices hereto, all of which should be carefully reviewed.
Because this is a summary, it does not contain all the information that may be important to you. You should read the entire proxy statement and its appendices carefully before you decide how to vote.

Bring abstractions down to earthAbstractions abound in the financial industry. What pictures form in your mind when you read these phrases: mutual fund, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, zero coupon bond, call option, or foreign currency trading? Most people don’t have an image in their minds when they hear abstract words like these. And yet, it’s far easier to comprehend a concept or a situation when your mind can form images.
In a study conducted at Carnegie-Mellon University, a cognitive psychol­ogist and an English professor discovered that readers faced with com­plex written information frequently resorted to creating “scenarios” in an effort to understand the text. That is, they often made an abstract concept understandable by using it in a hypothetical situation in which
people performed actions.You can make complex information more understandable by giving your readers an example using one investor. This technique explains why “question and answer” formats often succeed when a narrative, abstract discussion fails.Here is an example of how this principle can be used to explain an abstract concept—call options:

For example, you can buy an option from Mr. Smith that gives you the right to buy 100 shares of stock X from him at $25.00 per share anytime between now and six weeks from now. You believe stock X’s purchase price will go up between now and then. He believes it will stay the same or go down. If you exercise this option before it expires, Mr. Smith must sell you 100 shares of stock X at $25.00 per share, even if the purchase price has gone up. Either way, whether you exercise your option or not, he keeps the money you paid him for the option. 

Although it is impossible to eliminate all abstractions from writing, always use a more concrete term when you can.

Asset Investment Security Equity Stock ➡➡ Common stock One share of IBM common stock
The following examples show how you can replace abstract terms with more concrete ones and increase your reader’s comprehension:
Sandyhill Basic Value Fund, Inc. (the “Fund”) seeks capital apprecia­tion and, secondarily, income by investing in securities, primarily equities, that management of the Fund believes are undervalued and therefore represent basic investment value.
At the Sandyhill Basic Value Fund, we will strive to increase the value of your shares (capital appreciation) and, to a lesser extent, to provide income (dividends). We will invest primarily in undervalued stocks, meaning those selling for low prices given the financial strength of the companies.
No consideration or surrender of Beco Stock will be required of shareholders of Beco in return for the shares of Unis Common Stock issued pursuant to the Distribution.
You will not have to turn in your shares of Beco stock or pay any money to receive your shares of Unis common stock from the spin-off.
[By the Office of Investor Education and Assistance
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
450 5th Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20549]

domenica 18 dicembre 2011

Writing in Plain English for lawyers _ LESSON 1

We thought it would be helpful to list the most common problems we’ve encountered with disclosure documents.
Common problems:

Long sentences
Passive voice
Weak verbs
Superfluous words
Legal and financial jargon
Numerous defined terms
Abstract words
Unnecessary details
Unreadable design and layout

In the following pages we offer some ways to fix these problems.

For example, here’s a common sentence found in prospectuses:


Here’s one possible plain English rewrite:

You should rely only on the information contained in this document or that we have referred you to. We have not authorized anyone to provide you with information that is different.

The plain English rewrite uses everyday words, short sentences, active voice, regular print, and personal pronouns that speak directly to the reader.

Use the active voice with strong verbs

The plodding verbosity of most disclosure documents makes readers yearn for clear words and short sentences. The quickest fix lies in using the active voice with strong verbs. Strong verbs are guaranteed to liven up and tighten any sentence, virtually causing information to spring from the page. When you start to rewrite or edit your work, highlighting all the verbs can help. You may be surprised by the number of weak verbs, especially forms of “to be” or “to have” that you’ll find.
The time you spend searching for a precise and strong verb is time well spent. When a verb carries more meaning, you can dispense with many of the words used to bolster weak verbs.
Weak verbs keep frequent company with two more grammatical undesirables: passive voice and hidden verbs. In tandem, they add unnecessary length and confusion to a sentence.

The active and passive voices

Don’t ban the passive voice, use it sparingly

As with all the advice in this handbook, we are presenting guidelines, not hard and fast rules you must always follow. The passive voice may make sense when the person or thing performing the action is of secondary importance to another subject that should play the starring role in sentence. Use the passive voice only when you have a very good reason for doing so. When in doubt, choose the active voice.

Find hidden verbs
Does the sentence use any form of the verbs “to be,” “to have,” or another weak verb, with a noun that could be turned into a strong verb? In these sentences, the strong verb lies hidden in a nominalization, a noun derived from a verb that usually ends in -tion. Find the noun and try to make it the main verb of the sentence. As you change nouns to verbs, your writing becomes more vigorous and less abstract.

before                        after
We made an application... We applied...
We made a determination... We determined...
We will make a distribution... We will distribute...

We will provide appropriate information to shareholders concerning...
We will inform shareholders about...

We will have no stock ownership of the company.
We will not own the company’s stock.

There is the possibility of prior Board approval of these investments.
The Board might approve these investments in advance.

[By the Office of Investor Education and Assistance
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
450 5th Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20549]

martedì 13 dicembre 2011

Famous Resume Myths - Debunked!

Resume writing myths you may have heard, but should forget!

There is no one best way to write a resume; there are no absolutes. Every career counselor and recruiter has his or her own take on resume writing. Even the formatting you use and the positions you list depend on the industry, the specific job, and your experience. But amid all the potentially conflicting opinions, there is some agreement on common resume myths.

1. Your resume must be only one page.

False. "Your resume should be as long as needed [in order] to get your concise message across with zip and punch," says Joyce Lain Kennedy, careers columnist and author of Resumes for Dummies. If your experience and background justifies two or more pages, so be it. Recent grads shouldn't go beyond one page, but senior executives with decades of experience will probably need at least two pages.

The rules are slightly different for resumes sent via e-mail. Laura Dominguez Chan, a Stanford University career counselor, says that in that instance, shorter is better for both cover letters and resumes.

2. Prospective employers don't read cover letters.

False. "Remember that anything you send is part of an image you're projecting," says Dominguez Chan. "If [nothing else,] your cover letter shows your writing skills…and if all the candidates [for the position] really are top notch, it could be the cover letter that lands you the job."

3. Resumes should include and describe your entire work history.

False. Your resume is a sales piece, a personal marketing tool. Take time to consider what skills the position requires. It’s likely that a part-time job you took for a few months isn't going to be relevant or impressive. Unless you need to cover a significant time gap, it’s wise to include only those jobs that will showcase your ability to excel in the position for which you’re applying.

Volunteer and other non-paid positions can be just as valuable as paid ones—especially if you’re a recent grad or are re-entering the workforce after an absence. Use your resume format to communicate volunteer work as experience.

4. It's okay to fib on your resume.
False. If you think "blowing smoke on your resume—inflating grades, inventing degrees, concocting job titles—is risk free because nobody checks, you're wrong," says Joyce Lain Kennedy. Employers do check, and those fibs will catch up with you.

"People think they have to puff themselves up," says Ronnie Gravitz, a career counselor at UC Berkeley. "You just need to make a good case for what you have done.”

5. Including "References available upon request" is standard resume protocol.

False. "An employer won't assume [that] you don't have references," says Dominguez Chan. “[Removing the line] gives you more room to include important information about who you are." She adds, "The only reason to include that [information] is if for some reason references are absolutely needed in the field. Academic positions, for example, typically ask for several reference names and/or letters."

6. If your resume is good enough, it will produce a job offer.

False. Your resume is only one part of the process. Its job is to land you an interview. "Once you get the interview, says Joyce Lain Kennedy, "you are what gets you a job—your skills, your savvy, your personality, your attitude."

venerdì 2 dicembre 2011

Citing EU documents

Italicise the titles of white and green papers. Separate

the main title and the subtitle, if any, with a colon. Use initial capitals on the

first and all significant words in the main title and on the first word in the

subtitle. Launch straight into the italicised title: do not introduce it with ‘on’,

‘concerning’, ‘entitled’, etc.

In the White Paper
Growth, Competitiveness, Employment: The challenges and

ways forward into the twenty-first century
, the Commission set out a strategy …

The White Paper
Growth, Competitiveness, Employment was the first …

Growth, Competitiveness, Employment, on the other hand, the Commission set

in motion …
[this form might work where the White Paper had already been

mentioned, for example, or in an enumeration]

The Green Paper
Towards Fair and Efficient Pricing in Transport: Policy

options for internalising the external costs of transport in the European Union

Green Paper on Innovation [‘Green Paper on’ is part of its title]

Do the same with the titles of other policy statements and the like that are

published in their own right:

the communication
An Industrial Competitiveness Policy for the European

[published as Bull. Suppl. 3/94]

the communication
Agenda 2000: For a stronger and wider Union [when the

reference is to the title of the document, which was published in Bull.

Suppl. 5/97; but of course we would probably say ‘an Agenda 2000 priority’ for


If a policy statement has a title, but has not as far as you know been published,

put the title in inverted commas:

the communication ‘A European Strategy for Encouraging Local Development

and Employment Initiatives’
[this appeared in OJ C 265 of 12 October 1995,

and its title is cast like the title of a book, but it does not seem to have been

published in its own right]

‘Communications’ that are not policy statements, such as the announcements

which regularly appear in the Official Journal (OJ), get no italics, inverted

commas, or special capitalisation:

the Commission communication in the framework of the implementation of

Council Directive 89/686/EEC of 21 December 1989 in relation to personal

protective equipment, as amended by Council Directives 93/68/EEC, 93/95/EEC

and 96/58/EC [OJ C 180 of 14 June 1997]