Mark Twain famously apologized for writing a long letter because he “didn’t have time” to write a short one. In other words, Twain’s letter suffered from a lack of editing. As Twain’s quip suggests, editing does require planning and can sometimes be time-consuming, but it is nonetheless a critical step to ensure that a writer’s message is both clear and concise.
While clerking on one of the busiest appellate courts in the country, I saw firsthand the importance of taking the time to carefully edit briefs. In short, editing can be the difference between a brief that gets read and one that gets skimmed. Courts are simply too busy to spend hours deciphering the meaning of any one brief. If a brief is wordy or unclear or, worse, repetitious, the reader will be tempted only to skim through it. It is therefore imperative that arguments be communicated clearly and, most important, concisely.
By taking the time to edit a brief, you will not only increase the chances that your brief will be studied carefully but will also demonstrate to the court that you respect its time and workload. The following five steps may be used as a guide for working through the editing process from beginning to end.