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Wednesday, October 11th, 2017 technology  research  practice

A Research Tip

  • Research & Writing

This is intended mostly for the baby-boomers out there.

If you’re writing a client piece, it’s often tempting to jazz things up with a reference to sports, popular music, TV or movies.

This can be effective, both in conveying an image and in making the writer look human (which isn’t always easy in legal writing). There are some pitfalls, however.

Those born before 1965 may have to come to the shocking realisation that there is a now a generation for whom The Beatles are just some old band their grandparents bore on about.

Trying to look hip can also backfire, as the current mayor of Toronto found out when he lauded Kanye West as a ‘proud product of our music industry’. Whatever his other foibles, the late Rob Ford probably wouldn’t have made the same mistake.

I know the day will come when my Advanced Legal Research and Writing class fails to recognise The Smiths. This is inevitable but regrettable, not only because they helped to define my late adolescence, but also because the band’s squabble over money is a such a nice illustration of basic principles of partnership law (see Joyce v Morrissey, (1998) All ER 556 (CA), and a rather different account of the facts in Morrissey’s Autobiography (2013)).

Sports references can be vivid, but also problematic. American writers make the mistake of assuming that the entire world loves baseball as much as they do. (The term ‘World Series’ appears to originate not from the sport’s purported global reach but from early sponsorship by the New York World newspaper.)

By the same token, Canadians may want to avoid too many hockey references if they have potential readers in Australia or Hong Kong – or Canadian readers who grew up in cultures in which the dominant sports aren’t hockey and (North American) football, but cricket or (what the rest of the world calls) football. Many Americans will not have played games that involve the offside rule, so using offside to describe improper behaviour may give rise to blank looks. Female readers may (but may not) be put off by sports analogies of any kind.

And we’ve all met that tiresome guy (and it is usually a guy) who can repeat whole episodes of Monty Python, Seinfeld, The Simpsons … Remember that not all who read your client piece will have seen the particular episode you find hilarious (or if they have, have found it hilarious).

It’s best to stick to references that everyone will get. No easy thing.

Next edition: let’s get personal

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)

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