Friday, June 23, 2017

Dating Tips

While dates can be very important in some cases (e.g., where the statute of limitations or a question of whether a party was timely served with process is at issue), in many cases, they are irrelevant. As Ross Guberman notes in Point Made, “[f]ewer things are duller than a paragraph stuffed with dates.”

I call writers who draft paragraphs “stuffed with dates” disinterested historians. These disinterested historians begin or end sentence after sentence with “on X date . . . .”

Using time markers rather than specific dates makes a paragraph flow. Words and phrases such as

·      Then
·      Nearly two years later
·      After Smith and Jones signed the contract
·      Within a month

add context when the specific dates aren’t necessary for resolution of the issue and make the statement of facts flow more like a story.

A good example comes from brief in support of a TRO filed by Neal Katyal in litigation over President Trump’s second executive order banning people from certain countries from entering the United States. Though he includes some key dates as well, Katyal employs this technique in outlining the events leading up to the travel ban:

Then-candidate Donald Trump made it crystal clear throughout his presidential campaign that if elected, he planned to bar Muslims from the United States. Shortly after the Paris attacks in December 2015, Mr. Trump issued a press release calling for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” When questioned about the idea shortly thereafter. . . .

Later, as the presumptive Republican nominee, Mr. Trump began using facially neutral language to describe the Muslim ban. . . .

Throughout the campaign, Mr. Trump also made clear that his plans extended to disfavoring Muslim refugees while favoring their Christian counterparts.

After his election, the President-Elect signaled that he would not retreat from his Muslim ban.

Sometimes dates are critical. When they are, of course the writer should include them. But when they aren’t, writers can employ this excellent technique to tell the client’s story in a more interesting and readable way.

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