We’ve all seen it: a social media argument devolve into a competition over grammar. There’s no doubt grammar is important. But whether on Facebook or your next legal brief, good grammar won’t be enough to save your bad argument.
Everyone has those friends on social media who seem to like to argue for arguments’ sake. As the political season heats up, many people’s Facebook and Twitter feeds are filling with heated debates. All too often, rather than a thoughtful exchange of ideas, these arguments fall apart when one person makes a typo. Whether a simple misspelling, an auto-correct error, or a wrong word choice, a simple grammatical error can derail the entire argument. Rather than focusing on the point you were trying to make, the other side will latch on to that missing o in “to” and use it to point out your inadequacy.
It’s true that attention to detail and proper grammar can make your argument stronger. Writing riddled with typos can make it hard for your reader to follow your argument, and make you appear less intelligent or convincing. But the opposite is also true.
Even spotless grammar cannot save a baseless argument. If the premise of your argument is conjecture or a false logic, good grammar will make those errors more apparent, not less.
This is true whether you are debating on Facebook or drafting a legal brief. Before a point makes it into your brief, you should make sure it has a solid logical and legal basis. As a general rule, never make a legal statement you cannot support with a statute or case law. This will take longer to research, but it will make it easier for the judge to rule in your favor.
Use a similar commitment to documentation when you put together your Statement of Facts. Whether you use affidavits, subpoena documents, or social media captures, make sure you have something to support your allegations. Be specific, and quote language that helps your case whenever possible (with proper citation!).
By laying everything out in your motion and brief, you will make your day easier for oral argument. Your opposing counsel will have a harder time throwing up defenses to a well-researched, well-supported legal argument. By doing the work ahead of time, you will have the cases, and the evidence you need at your fingertips when it comes time to argue your case.
Even on social media, linking to an authoritative source article can make your arguments more convincing. By quoting an authority and supporting your position, you can even overcome an errant typo.
Good grammar is essential to a well-written argument or brief, but it can’t do all the heavy lifting. Whether you are debating on social media or preparing for a major motion, take the time to pair good grammar with a thoroughly researched position. The one-two punch will push your writing to the next level and provide a good defense against Internet trolls who have no better argument than to point out your missing comma.
Lisa Schmidt is a writer for Legal Linguist in Ferndale, Michigan. She provides writing services to busy law firms. If you have a memorandum or brief that you need written, contact Legal Linguist today to schedule a meeting.