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Good Sentences

The Syntax of Sports: Words to Write By

At the end of every writing workshop at the Law School, Professor Patrick Barry tries to give students some "words to write by." Click on the tiles below to see the full advice.

 

 

Suggested Citation:  Patrick Barry, Words to Write By, Good Sentences (http://libguides.law.umich.edu/goodsentences/words-to-write-by).




When writing anything from a brief to a paper to a tweet...


Try to write something that you would actually want to read.




When deciding when to begin...


The earlier you start, the shorter your brief or paper or memo is likely to be -- which is a good thing.




When faced with writer's block...
Writing often comes down to having a conversation on a page. Only, first, that conversation usually needs to happen with another person. So talk to people about what you are writing -- and then thank them, profusely.



When decided which classes to take...
Once you've paid tuition, learning to write in school will be a lot less expensive than learning to write on the job. So take some writing classes before you graduate. And if you can't find any good ones, create your own. That's why the world invented the term "independent study."


When deciding whether to use a comma, dash, semicolon, or other mark of punctuation...
Punctuation affects other punctuation. Check the other punctuaion you have already used in the sentence (or in the surrounding sentences) before making your final decision.




When stating your thesis...


If nobody would disagree with you, you're probably not saying anything that interesting.




When deciding how much to quote...
Chances are, nobody wants to read your research.  More likely, they want to read the fruits of your research.  So quote sparingly and make friends with "the paraphrase."



When tempted to use an unnecessarily fancy word or phrase or theory...



Trying to sound smart is a pretty dumb strategy.



When you have made a mistake somebody else could learn from...



Share it. Failure is a public good.
When you are about to make the mistake of thinking that content always comes before structure, that you first need to figure out all your ideas before you figure out how you are going to organize them...



Once you find the right structure, perhaps it will be easier to find the right content.




When editing...

Before handing something in, try to have at least one other set of eyes look it over. Your set is not to be trusted.



When thinking about what to do after you graduate...

Starting with what you like to do and then trying to figure out if there is some way you can get paid to do it seems like a much better strategy than starting with what you can get paid to do and then trying to figure out if there is some way you can like it.





When giving feedback...


Remember: few people like to be corrected. Most people prefer to be helped.



When trying to sound sincere in a cover letter or application essay...
Try to write a sentence nobody else could write. Details can help. So can telling a story. And don't worry if you don't get it right the first time. Sometimes sincerity takes a few drafts.




When trying to come up with a new idea...



The key to coming up with a new idea is to make it not that new.