Writing Tips

Legal Writing Grammar and Usage

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One Easy Way to Weaken Your Point

Are You Weakening Your Point with "Indicate"?

Use the word “indicate,” as in:

In April 2011, 3M conducted groundwater infiltration studies that indicated the North Pond contributed 25 percent of the flows to the seep.

“Indicate” means to communicate in an indirect manner, yet many lawyers use it as though it meant “said,” “promised,” “stated,” “claimed,” “declared.”

 

The sentence above says that the people who conducted the studies weren’t positive, but they think that maybe the North Pond might have contributed about a quarter of the flows. If the lawyer meant that, then this is acceptable; but if the lawyer meant that the studies were conclusive, she should have replaced “indicated” with “revealed” or “proved.”

 

It gets worse when we have a human “indicating.” If someone says something to someone else, and he’s not speaking in euphemisms, displaying signs, or using body language to convey the real message, he’s not “indicating.”

Bauer indicated that he was not aware of the cost overruns and would further review the budget.

This means that Bauer said something or did something in a way that led you (or your client) to believe he was not aware of the overruns. Someone else, like a judge, might interpret the “indication” differently. And therein lies the problem: Using “indicate” leaves open whether another observer could have interpreted the “indication” differently; this causes judges to wonder. And question. Lawyers often weaken their position by writing “indicated,” rather than using the strong, direct word they mean.

 

P.S. I frequently see a version of the following, which not only weakens the argument, but also is oxymoronic:

Laws clearly indicate that [statute] is not applicable to the underlying contract.

We can’t “clearly communicate indirectly.” (Although some of us try.)

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About Gary Kinder

Gary Kinder

WordRake founder Gary Kinder has taught over 1,000 writing programs for AMLAW 100 firms, Fortune 500 companies, and government agencies. He’s also a New York Times bestselling author. As a writing expert and coach, Gary was inspired to create WordRake when he noticed a pattern in writing errors that he thought he could address with technology.

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