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Bar Association of San Francisco Member Benefits: Publications

Want to Become a Better Writer? Read More!

By Leslie A. Gordon, BASF Bulletin Contributor

A surefire way to become a better writer is to be a good reader – and not just a reader of legal writing. In fact, because modern lawyers should strive for plain English, I recommend you read the best of mainstream writing. Here are suggestions.

The New Yorker

Aside from the irresistible cartoon contest, The New Yorker contains some of the best writing out there. Writers use terrific leads and are experts at telling stories, a skill that most brief-writing lawyers need to improve. The epitome of “show don’t tell,” New Yorker prose will keep your interest even through otherwise boring topics.

The writers use varied sentence lengths and creative connective transitions throughout paragraphs. You won’t spot an unnecessary definition anywhere. Read even one story per issue – you’ll learn a lot.

The Wall Street Journal

When I was an unhappy lawyer attempting to break into journalism, I asked an editor what I should be reading. Without missing a beat, he responded, “The Journal.” Famous for making complex topics clear to even to middle schoolers, the Wall Street Journal should be studied both for content and structure. Stories typically begin with a specific, descriptive lead and then move into the general point, with a single point or theme per story. Loaded with details and examples that humanize even the driest of topics, stories assume no prior knowledge by readers and anticipate readers’ questions. The writing hits a perfect pitch between concise and thorough.

Other Ideas

Great writing can be found in unexpected places. Sports Illustrated and Runner’s World magazines, for example, both feature terrific prose. And believe it or not, even reading Twitter – with its concise, simple content for a primarily non-lawyer audience – can be time well spent.

What do you think lawyers should read to become better writers? We’d like to feature your suggestions in an upcoming column. Email ideas to

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