I posted five blogs in the past three years on writing expert reports. (Refs 1 to 5) And referenced two excellent texts. (Refs 6 and 7) These are guidelines for experts, as well as for those of you practicing law and insurance claims management and consulting – to help you recognize well written, technical reports. I emphasized the need for well written reports because of the intent of civil procedure rules governing experts – like Rule 55 in Nova Scotia, to expedite the settling of disputes.
However, missing from my blogs were guidelines on composing a report – selecting the words, assembling them into sentences, the sentences into paragraphs, and the paragraphs into report sections.
William K. Zinsser’s book “On Writing Well” solves that problem. (332 pages for $19.99 at Chapters) (Ref. 8) This is one of the most informative, engaging and humorous books on writing non-fiction – e.g., expert’s reports, that I’ve seen. And his book is well written, as you might expect, pulling you right along page after page.
Mr. Zinsser’s book has been in print for 39 years - longer than most of us have been practicing. It was first published in 1976. The 7th edition came out in 2006. I learned about the book when I read his obituary in the Globe and Mail in May. (Ref. 9) By then it was recognized as a classic, like Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style” which it complemented. (Ref. 10)
Strunk and White’s little book noted the dos and don’ts of writing. Zinsser’s big book applied those principles in 25 chapters to the different methods and forms of writing non-friction. Chapter 15 on writing for Science and Technology is most relevant to expert report writing. It is based on a simple principle: Writing is thinking on paper. Another chapter on Clutter is also good – getting rid of jargon and useless words.
Zinsser says that in making scientific and technical material accessible to the lay person – the purpose of an expert’s report – “Nowhere else must you work so hard to write sentences that form a linear sequence (sequential writing). This is no place for fanciful leaps (of faith) or implied truths. Fact and deduction are the ruling family.” Put another way, “Go from what you know to what you don’t know”. (Ref. 11)
He tells us to imagine technical writing as an upside-down pyramid. Start at the bottom with the one narrow fact the reader must know before he can learn any more. For example, the technical issue in a case or claim. The second sentence broadens what was stated first, making the pyramid wider, and the third sentence broadens the second, so that you can gradually move beyond the facts into analysis, interpretation, conclusion and opinion – the reason the man slipped and fell, the cause of the bridge failure, the location of the plume of contamination, why inadequate foundations, the source of the flood water.
Does “sequential writing” resonate with expert report writing? This phrase appears often in Zinsser’s book in chapters on all forms of non-friction writing but nowhere is it more relevant than writing for Science and Technology – expert report writing.
Civil procedure Rule 55 requires experts to state the basis of their opinions. Writing “sequentially” – thinking on paper, ensures we do this.
I recommend that you buy this book and give it to the next expert you retain. Those of you practicing law, and insurance claims management and consulting, will also benefit from reading it.
- Civil procedure Rule 55 will improve expert’s reports and forensic engineering investigation. Posted August 21, 2012
- Writing forensic engineering reports. Posted November 6, 2012
- New civil procedure rule will result in the writing of better expert reports. Posted May 20, 2013
- Thinking on ”paper”, and well written, easily defended expert’s reports. Posted March 6, 2014
- Guidelines for writing an expert witness report. Posted May 17, 2014
- Babitsky, Esq., Steven and Mangraviti, Jr., Esq., James J., Writing and Defending Your Expert Report; the Step-by-Step Guide with Models, SEAK Inc, Falmouth, Massachusetts, 2002
- Mangraviti, James J., Babitsky, Steven, and Donovan, Nadine Nasser, How to Write an Expert Witness Report, SEAK, Inc., Falmouth, MA 2014
- Zinsser, William K., On Writing Well, the classic guide to writing nonfiction, 7th ed., Harper Collins, New York 2006
- The Globe and Mail, page S6, May 15, 2015
- Strunk, Jr, William and White, E. B., The Elements of Style, 2nd ed., The Macmillan Company 1959
- Maharaj, Jeremiah R., Personal communication years ago. Jerry was a former teacher in Port of Spain, Trinidad, and my classmate at the College of Geographic Sciences, Lawrencetown, Nova Scotia. Jerry’s comment stuck in my mind over the years as I’m sure it did for others. It is relevant to Zinsser’s advice on writing for science and technology.