Writing in plain English (Part 3)

In this series of posts I’ve asked Sarah Fox, 500 word lawyer, all about her thoughts on how lawyers and others can write more clearly, whether that is for legal documents, emails to clients or marketing materials.

Previously I’ve asked Sarah about why we should all try to write more clearly. In this post I ask her how we can go about this in an organised way.


When writing any document you should take a structured approach. This applies not just to the task of putting pen to paper, but also to your preparation.

The process can be divided into 5 stages:




Sarah Fox on writing in plain english

Who? Why?

Tasks – Analysing (audience and purpose)

Focus – The reader: what’s in it for them? why are you writing? what action do you want?

Tools – Questions: who, what, why?


Tasks – Thinking, collating, methodology

Focus – The data: what information does your reader need to answer the ‘why’ of the report?

Tools – Data collection. Primary/ secondary research tools. Tools for assembling, collating & culling raw material


Tasks – Planning, ordering, structuring

Focus – The flow: how can you best present the data to answer the question?

Tools – Mindmaps, outlines; creative or linear structures.


Tasks – Getting words onto paper

Focus – Quantity: everything you think you want to answer the question

Tools – Dictation systems, voice recorders, word and data processing software


Tasks – Reviewing, refining, analysing and clarifying

Focus – Quality: only what you need to say so your reader understands the answer first time

Tools – Readability statistics, grammar and spell checkers; proof-readers and editors.



The rough split of time for each stage is:

  • Pre-writing (planning) 25%
  • Text (writing) 25%
  • Editing & clarifying 50%

Most writers spend too much time on the text stage and not enough on either planning or editing (as opposed to proof-reading).


Thanks Sarah, I think that’s a really helpful summary. I know my personal weak spot is research and planning, in that I get too interested in what I’m learning/the bigger picture and don’t move into action soon enough (at least I’m sure that is what my editors would say!)

What is your weak spot and how will you fix it now? I’d love to know in the comments and I’m sure Sarah would pop over to answer a few questions too.


If you have found this post helpful, you can follow this blog using the button at the top right, sign up for the monthly(ish) newsletter with a round-up of posts and useful info, and come along to Sarah’s training event in Birmingham on 14th June.


About knowledge4lawyers

I am a lawyer and a Knowledge Management expert. Through The Knowledge Business I help law firms improve their efficiency and profitability through knowledge services - consultancy, training and implementation help.
This entry was posted in Events, Knowledge Network UK, skills, Training and learning, writing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Writing in plain English (Part 3)

  1. Tickets for Sarah’s Birmingham event on 14th June can be bought here https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/avoid-lethal-writing-tickets-23987926534

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