Writing Tips

Sentence Structure

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The Worst Writing Advice You Ever Got

Are Topic Sentences Necessary?

“Begin each paragraph with a topic sentence.”

Topic sentences work well when we’re in 6th grade and learning how to express ourselves. They help us organize our thoughts. But once we know how to do that, we lawyers should stop using them. Otherwise, our briefs and memoranda become bloated. (Hint to litigators trying to meet a page limit: Many briefs can be cut 15-20% if the lawyer removes only the bald topic sentences.)

A ubiquitous form of repetition, topic sentences only stall our readers, making them run in place, until we decide to move them forward. If we get specific with our readers at the beginning of a paragraph, rather than give them an overview of what’s to come, they still can easily follow.

In both paragraphs below, the second sentence alerts the reader to the topic and where the lawyer is headed. The reader does not need the broad statement of the first sentence.

New York Casualty’s argument is also logically inconsistent. To adopt New York Casualty’s interpretation would make the use of the term “criminal” in the introductory clause of Section (2) superfluous.

Finally, New York Casualty’s statement of the law on specific clauses superseding general clauses is overstated. Rather, inconsistencies in a contract are to be resolved “by giving full effect . . . .”

Another example:

Marriott’s argument that the Project will cause the Courtyard to lose access is without legal or factual merit. Marriott claims that the Project will increase traffic flows and as a result during peak morning and afternoon hours, traffic will back up past the Courtyard.

Most of our topic sentences contain nothing more than self-serving, conclusory statements better left unsaid anyway. When we avoid them, we allow our words to breathe, and our writing becomes more vibrant.

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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.

In 2012, Gary and his team of engineers created WordRake editing software to help writers produce clear, concise, and effective prose. It saves time and gives confidence. Writing and editing has never been easier.

WordRake takes you beyond the merely grammatical to the truly great—the quality editor you’ve always wanted. See for yourself.

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How Does it Work?

WordRake is editing software designed by writing expert and New York Times bestselling author Gary Kinder. Like an editor or helpful colleague, WordRake ripples through your document checking for needless words and cumbersome phrases. Its complex algorithms find and improve weak lead-ins, confusing language, and high-level grammar and usage slips.

WordRake runs in Microsoft Word and Outlook, and its suggestions appear in the familiar track-changes style. If you’ve used track changes, you already know how to use WordRake. There’s nothing to learn and nothing to interpret. Editing for clarity and brevity has never been easier.