Clear communication – A critical success factor

Clear communication – A critical success factor

BIO: Helen Burt is a professionally qualified business and personal development coach. Member of Coaches & Mentors Association of South Africa and the International Coaches Register. An Ennea International 5 Lens Certified Practitioner. A dual-qualified (United Kingdom and South Africa) lawyer with broad commercial and corporate legal experience and expertise.  Has worked both in the UK and in SA in top-tier law firms and as general legal counsel for a number of organisations – including a multi-national publicly-listed global bank, a privately-held asset management company, a publicly-listed investment management company and an

How effective is your written communication? Do you know if it is making an impact, conveying your message clearly? Or is what you seeking to say getting ‘lost in translation’ due to writing which is poor, vague, muddled? As a lawyer, your ability to write clearly and coherently and be able to adapt your writing style to suit the requirements of your particular audience, is critical if you are going to be able to clearly get your message and advice across.

Some key learnings in developing a clear and persuasive writing style are:

  1. Know what it is that you want to write about

Know the message, advice that you want to bring across. This requires a great deal of prior preparation, research and much drafting, re-drafting and again, redrafting before you are ready to press the ‘send’ button.

  1. Know your audience

You need to know who you are communicating with, who will be reading and receiving your legal advice in order to ensure that you communicate in a way that ‘speaks’ to them and addresses their exact problems, questions, concerns.

Knowing your audience means that you will be better placed to tailor your writing in a way that they can understand – which means that they are more likely to listen to your advice.

  1. Be clear and concise

Do not write in obtuse, unclear legalese. Use plain, clear language and simple words. This does not mean write ‘simplistically’, or in a way that ‘dumbs down’ your audience – rather, it means avoiding overly long and complex sentences and words that add nothing to the message and advice you wish to convey.

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough” Albert Einstein

  1. Be structured

Ensure that you write in a structured manner – for example have clear headings for the different areas you wish to address, use paragraphs to differentiate between different thoughts, keep sentences short and always have a clear introduction and conclusion to summarise the importance of your advice.

“Good writing is clear thinking made visible” Bill Wheeler

Helen Burt 


Mike Tinnion

To email or not to e-mail*

John Schnobrich

 Think twice and proofread at least once

*E-mail or email is both appropriate and correct, but choose one of the spellings and use it consistently.

Sources: Grammar Girl writes a good explanation for the use of email/e-mail as well as Grammarly explains it on their website.

Emails are part of our daily lives. Nine out of ten times, most of our day, consists of checking and replying to emails. For this reason, I decided to do a check list regarding writing, replying and sending emails. No matter if the recipient is a professor, colleague and/or future employer.

Check List

  • Have an informative subject line
  • Be concise
  • Be formal and use the correct title: Dear Dr/Prof. Smith
  • End the email in the same style/register: Sincerely/Regards/Kind regards, Your Name (other contact details if necessary)
  • Use the appropriate or chosen register
  • No slang, abbreviations, or emoticons
  • Proofread your email twice
  • If replying on an email:
    • Address any asked questions or statements, before stating your question
    • Demonstrate that you have efficiently read the previous email
  • If asking a specific question:
    • State specifically your interest/research field/module
    • Explain the reason for asking the question
    • Ask to schedule a meeting in the person’s office hours

The following article was written by Natalie Tindall, Associate Professor at Lamar University, USA. The article addresses key points regarding email writing and discusses the above check list in more detail.

Helpful article: Aspects to bear in mind when writing an email


Use your resources

Use your resources


In the academic life of today, it is much easier to find out if you are referencing correct or even if you are writing about the correct fact or case in an academic article and/or assignment. There are more types of sources and resources that you could ever imagine. So why don’t we use it?

There are many reasons:
  1. Uninformed
  2. Stupidity
  3. Not enough time to search for the correct sources, but then again if you plan and use your time productively, this shouldn’t be a problem.
  4. Use the same sources every time because you feel comfortable with that type of source.

But on this platform you have the Legal Writing blog to show and inform you about reliable (and even free) sources and resources that can improve your legal writing and general writing skills.

General Websites


Grammar Girl


Twitter profiles to follow

Spell Checker Tools

Everybody needs motivation

Everybody needs motivation

Ksenia Makagonova

Motivation for starting an assignment

I always struggle to start writing after I’ve finished my research. It is a large amount of information and usually as a student, you feel you don’t have enough space/pages to write and include all the information necessary to answer the question. So where do we start? Or the better question: How do we start?

I am not a big supporter of newsletters, but Professor Pat Thomson’s weekly newsletters never disappoint. Professor Thomson motivates, initiate ideas, no matter if you are writing an assignment, thesis or journal article.

Take a look and let me know what you think: Patter with Prof Pat Thomson

NB! Con Law 312 Heads of Argument pointers



Tuesday, 13 March 2018

The Law Faculty’s Writing Consultants have received a number of questions from students and/or have detected a number of potential issues/concerns during their student consultations regarding the preparation of the applied writing assignment (‘AWA’) for Constitutional Law 312. As a point of departure, we would like to encourage students participating in Constitutional Law 312 to please consult the following resources again (1) the Applied Writing Assignment Guidelines and Case Study (‘Guidelines’); and (2) the entire 2018 Faculty of Law Writing Guide (‘Writing Guide’), but especially (i) pages 66-98 (Faculty’s referencing guidelines); and (ii) pages 112-122 (Faculty’s guidelines for drafting heads of arguments). Please see below for a summary of the key points discussed during our meeting: (more…)

Constitutional Law 312 – Heads of Argument

Dear Students

As promised, an additional few tips on how to approach your heads of argument assignment. [Afrikaans volg na Engels]:

Heads of Argument:

This is a short guideline on a few important technical aspects of the heads of argument. DO NOT USE this document as an all-encompassing guideline for your heads of argument but rather see this as a helpful extra resource to use after you have read and considered all the relevant material and guidelines as provided in the writing guide. (more…)