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Rosky Legal Education

Greetings!

Hope you are enjoying this long-awaited spring. At RLE, springtime is summer associate time, so we are busy gearing up for lots of writing workshops. 

This month’s tip is on one of writing’s most powerful, but least used, punctuation marks: the colon. I hope you'll experiment with using these two little dots to assert your points forcefully.


Until the next tip!
Dianne Rosky
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Beyond the Smiley Face: Use the Colon to Assert Confidence


Apart from its key role in the smiley face, the colon is a tragically underused punctuation mark. Lots of professional writers use colons only when they must—to introduce a list or a long quotation.

Colon and semicolon.But the colon is a great tool for showing strength and confidence in a low-key way. The colon's function is to direct attention to whatever follows it. So when you want to amplify, explain, or illustrate a sentence, let the colon do that work for you. It adds a punch to your writing that you don’t get from words that convey similar meaning, like in that, which is, or namely.
 
Especially in persuasive writing, the colon is a handy way to bump up the rhetoric without coming across as overheated. Here are a couple of examples of colon power:
 
Before:
Evidence of external judicial actions also violates Rule 403 for an additional reason, which is that this evidence would confuse the jury by raising peripheral issues that do not need to be resolved here.

After:
Evidence of external judicial actions violates Rule 403 for an additional reason: this evidence would confuse the jury by raising peripheral issues that do not need to be resolved here.

Before:
The defendant’s conduct has caused
Revco  irreparable harm in that Revco has lost the opportunity to introduce its redesigned product line at the 2013 Expo.

After:  
The defendant’s conduct has caused Revco irreparable harm: Revco has lost the opportunity to introduce its redesigned product line at the 2013 Expo.
 
In the revised sentences, the colon conveys a pang of suspense and anticipation. Is it me, or does the colon remind you of the first two notes of Law & Order's iconic theme song? Dah dumm. Think of the colon as your pocket flashlight: use it to shine the spotlight on what’s important. But don't overdo it. As one of my clients put it (half-jokingly), with the great power of the colon comes great responsibility.


With great power comes great responsibility.
Artist: Itomi Bhaa

CLE Webinars

If you liked today’s tip using colons to convey confidence, signup for our first webinar, a full hour devoted to strategies for showing authority and confidence in your writing.
Authoritative Legal Writing: Show Confidence on Paper  is scheduled for June 20.   Sign up here.

May writing program

On May 21, I’ll be presenting my core legal writing workshop, Essential of Effective Legal Writing, for one of my favorite organizations, PALS (Practicing Attorneys for Law Students). This year marks the 10th year we’ve offered this program—a genuine tradition. The program is free and open to law students of color working as summer associates or legal interns.
Details and sign up here.

Recommended resource

If you want a more comprehensive refresher on using colons correctly, Grammar Girl's website has a detailed explanation of colon usage. She covers whether to capitalize the word after a colon (up to you, but be consistent), and whether to precede a colon with a complete sentence (yes!).

Rosky Legal Ed

Our team of writing and speech experts works with lawyers and other professionals to help them deliver communications that make them shine. We work with lawyers in all practice areas and especially love teaching women and international attorneys. Our clients are AmLaw 100 firms and global companies. 
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