Studenthack#2: Don’t be ‘extra’ with your writing!

Am trying to do my assignment due today at 11:55pm.  I have 500 extra words to get rid of, to make the requisite 1,000 words.

Yes, for our assignments, there is a fixed wordcount with the caution: any words beyond that will not be read for grading.

So, for now, it is 1,000.  Nothing more.

Well, they say a picture paints a thousand words.  Ah, if only we could just paint a picture…

Unfortunately, we have to write or rather, concise all of our analysis neatly into 1,000 words.  To date, our assignments require us to interpret either statutes or case precedents and apply them to a fictitious case with reasoning and a conclusion.  It takes the form of an advice to the client in the fictitious case, mimicking what we will have to do as lawyers in future.

Sounds simple?  Until you try to write.  It is bloody tough.

Here’s the irony: 1,000 words sounds like a lot, especially to a generation weaned on IG and Twitter.  But when you start writing, suddenly it isn’t quite enough.

Why?  A few reasons.  One, we write as we talk…which means we don’t pause, we don’t edit, we just write what comes to mind…much like how we talk in everyday conversations.  An early feedback we received in our bootcamp was ‘writing in a stream of consciousness’, that is, letting the words just flow….

Second, the trap of narcissistic writing.  The unwillingness to sacrifice.  Ideas and convictions we hold dear.  Or the need to validate that all of our thinking is right.  Because we spend hours slavishly forming and refining them, we are loathe to throw even one word away.

This is the biggest Achilles heel for any law student.  Because, in law school and indeed in the legal world, words are always used intentionally.  They are never extraneous, not even ‘a’ or ‘the’.  They are used to express an idea or principle as exacting as it is intended to be.

Even reading the assignments or judgments, interpreting statutes or precedents requires careful attention to each and every word.  Often, we need to stop and ask, does it really mean that?

Recently, we had a class exercise of interpreting the phrase ‘any comment, request, suggestion, proposal or other communication or sound which is obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy or indecent’.  The question was this: was the statement, ‘What are you wearing today?’ made on a 995 call, obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy or indecent?  Some said yes, some said no.  And the answer…it really depends. 😛

Coming back to writing 1,000-word assignments, I would like to share the following tips (studenthack#2):

  1. Structure, structure, structure (like a house, the foundation must be sound)
  2. Be intentional (what do you want to achieve? what do you want the reader to do?)
  3. Be clear, not clever (you will be surprised, it actually gets in the way of clear writing)
  4. After writing your first draft,  take a break.
  5. Come back to it and assess it brutally (are there unnecessary bits? did you miss something?)
  6. Get others to review it. (you will have blind spots and they help to point it out)
  7. Edit it again.

And as my lecturer said, this is not a linear flow!  You plan, you write, then you realise you might have to change what you planned and so it goes…until you finally get to a point where it starts to come together.

The editing is probably the hardest.  Because sacrifice is the essence of clear writing.  I remember what a Harvard Business School lecturer said, “Such pretty words but what do they mean?”  So get rid of the fluff.  That is how you get to 1,000 words.

So remember this: don’t be ‘extra’ with your writing.  Now let me go get rid of that extra 500 words.



P/S: “Extra” in urban lingo means being unnecessarily unnecessary.  This postscript may also be extra.

By |2021-04-11T13:00:13+08:00April 11th, 2021|Blog Posts|2 Comments

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About the Author:

Accountant by academic qualifications, digital marketer by profession. Making the final switch (some say leap) to the legal field - bucket list checked.


  1. Darren K July 15, 2021 at 10:32 pm - Reply

    One of the most difficult lessons to learn for students: waffling is easy. To be precise and concise is a lot more difficult. To control your pen (or rather, in today’s parlance, keyboard) and wield it sparingly, you must keep an eye on the important touchstone of Relevance. Many things can be excised by that. And when you can focus your thoughts on the umbra, letting yourself go to fill in the penumbra will be second nature – because you know which is which. A good lawyer needs to be able to to be precise when she has to be, and be able to leave herself wriggle-room if she needs to do so.

    • Wendy Ong July 24, 2021 at 5:17 pm - Reply

      Indeed! I had the good fortune of interning with a law firm during the semester break. Drafting well is hard.

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