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Are lawyers’ poor writing skills the reason contracts are so hard to read?

Legal Cheek: “A new study that examines why many contracts are difficult to understand has pinned the blame on lawyers’ use of overly-complex language. The study carried out by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Edinburgh analysed a corpus of contracts that ran up to around 10 million words. The purpose was to get to the bottom of a widespread bugbear that, “despite their ever-increasing presence in everyday life, contracts remain notoriously inaccessible to laypeople”. The researchers say contracts contain “startlingly high proportions of certain difficult-to-process features–including low-frequency jargon, center-embedded clauses (leading to long-distance syntactic dependencies), passive voice structures, and non-standard capitalization–relative to nine other baseline genres of written and spoken English.” In other words, lawyers write very strangely. Part of that is down to legal jargon. But, the study shows that lawyers are often guilty of using unnecessarily complex sentence such as inserting clauses in awkward places that make it easy for the reader to lose track of the meaning and a passive voice (e.g. ‘the stick was fetched by the dog’ rather than ‘the dog fetched the stick’)…”

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