Writer’s Desk: Writing Advice from Antonin Scalia


Although the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was best known for his strident dissents from not only his fellow liberal judges on the bench but even occasionally his conservative allies, he always prided himself on not just the slashing wit contained in his decisions but on his readable and provocative style.

A few years back, Scalia co-authored a book, Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges. Some of its advice on presentation — dress to impress, and “Maintain a dignified and respectful countenance”— is not too helpful for the average writer, who we can probably agree are a (albeit proudly so) slouchy and indifferently attired lot.

But the tips from Scalia (a grammar nerd who bonded with his co-author over a David Foster Wallace essay titled “Tense Present”) on writing presentation are worth heeding:

There’s a myth abroad that you should never begin a sentence with a conjunction. But look at any species of reputable writing—whether it’s a good newspaper, journal, novel or nonfiction work—and you’re likely to find several sentences per page beginning with one of those little connectives. You can hardly achieve a flowing narrative or argument without them…

Banish jargon, hackneyed expressions and needless Latin…

People tend not to start reading what they cannot readily finish…

Remember, many lawyers write for a living. The better ones do it well.

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