Writing Good English: A talk by William Zinsser to foreign students at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism is a wonderful essay for native speakers too. Although it is aimed at journalism students, most of it is applies to legal writing too. I wish all my students would read it.
Legal writing is different from journalistic writing in ways that matter, and these may obscure the essential lessons of Zinsser's exhortation for “Clarity, Simplicity, Brevity, and Humanity.” Lawyers sometimes must deal in great complexity. We must use terms of art if we mean the things that those terms, however unhappy, refer to, else we will be thought to mean something else. Details matter, and detail in law is rarely brief. Nevertheless.
And especially this:
The epidemic I’m most worried about isn’t swine flu. It’s the death of logical thinking. The cause, I assume, is that most people now get their information from random images on a screen—pop-ups, windows, and sidebars—or from scraps of talk on a digital phone. But writing is linear and sequential; Sentence B must follow Sentence A, and Sentence C must follow Sentence B, and eventually you get to Sentence Z. The hard part of writing isn’t the writing; it’s the thinking. You can solve most of your writing problems if you stop after every sentence and ask: What does the reader need to know next?”
Oh yes. [update: But see the comments.]