How to write like a lawyer or a marketer

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In preparation for the MaWSIG strand of talks at the next BESIG conference (click here for full details and registration), we’ve invited each of the speakers to give us a preview of their session. These previews will be appearing here over the next three weeks. Jeremy Day is speaking on Saturday November 5th at 3.15pm.

My talk at this year’s BESIG conference is about two topics that take me right back to the beginning of my career as a writer: legal English and marketing English. In 2003, after years of creating courses for my own learners, I wrote my first course for a global audience, English for Marketing Professionals (International House). My second global course, Advanced Legal English (British Council, 2005), followed a few years later. Both projects involved months of exhausting work – I remember my colleagues scoffing at me for working so hard, night after night, for so little money. But they led directly to my breakthroughs in publishing, first as Teacher’s Book writer for International Legal English (Cambridge, 2006), then as Series Editor for the Cambridge English for … series (2008–2011).

This experience taught me an important lesson: as writers, we certainly need lucky breaks, but we can increase our chances of getting lucky by sheer hard work.

Both those early courses were built around case studies: model dialogues and texts, followed by analysis and practice, leading to role-plays and situational writing. To create the case studies, I needed to identify rules and patterns from authentic texts. For example, I found that lawyers tend to write highly depersonalised texts, with non-human subjects, light verbs and heavy noun phrases. Marketing copy, in contrast, involves subtle uses of personal pronouns and powerful verbs to create snappy sentences. I’ll explain these processes in detail during my BESIG talk.

At a deeper level, it’s vital to understand the writers’ underlying motivations and the hidden processes behind the texts. For example, writing a contract is a non-linear process: lawyers start with simple phrases and gradually build up, step-by-step, to create their monstrous page-length sentences. Once you understand the process, the text itself becomes far more transparent. Similarly, in marketing English, every fragment of copy on a website is carefully designed to lead the reader along the path towards becoming a paying customer. You can only analyse the text if you first understand its position on that path.

Of course, English-teacher analysis can only get you so far. For published ESP courses, the content must be written and checked by experienced experts in the relevant fields. But whether you’re writing for your own learners or for a global market, understanding hidden patterns and processes like this can be incredibly useful and rewarding.

About the speaker

Jeremy Day’s new company, Day ELT (www.dayelt.com), creates tailored online English courses for higher education. He co-authored Active Grammar 3 (Cambridge), New Success Upper Intermediate (Pearson), How to Write for Digital Media (ELT Teacher2Writer) and two levels of Velawoods English, an immersive English course set in a 3-D interactive environment. He works from home in Warsaw, Poland.

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2 responses to How to write like a lawyer or a marketer

  1. Rachael Roberts 17 October 2016 at 12:12 pm #

    Really looking forward to your talk, Jeremy. I find this kind of analysis fascinating, and it applies, of course, to writing texts for CBs as well. To write something which really feels authentic you have to go through a similar process of analysing texts like the one you want to write, to really get the same feel.

  2. Jeremy 21 October 2016 at 10:25 am #

    Thanks, Rachael. And I agree with you about coursebooks. For me, it’s the best part of coursebook writing – trying to get inside someone else’s persona, to write as another person. Very analytical but also creative. It almost feels like acting at times. 🙂

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