While teaching students who are lawyers or work in the Department of Human resources, perhaps one of the most challenging things for teachers is helping with drafting a contract in English. Writing an accurate contract is of utmost importance, and a single mistake can lead to serious problems. Therefore, it should be done very carefully and thoroughly. To make things easier, in this article we will be presenting the key ingredients for drafting contracts in English, including useful language and tips.
Features of Legal English
- Sentence structure. Contracts have kind of an unusual sentence structure, such as atypical use of punctuation marks, borrowed words, the use of unusual pronouns (hereinto, thereto).
- Words unknown to the majority of people. This includes legal terms, legal jargon, archaisms (obsolete words), homonymous words, which in everyday speech have one meaning but in a contract quite another.
Tips for drafting a contract
The conciseness of the contract is of the utmost importance. To draft a concise contract you must use short words, paragraphs, and sentences. Each sentence is recommended to consist of not more than 25 words. In spite of the fact that some time ago contracts used to have lots of archaic words, nowadays people tend to avoid using too many sophisticated and archaic words to make it more comprehensible.
One should also bear in mind to use words that convey meanings clearly. Sometimes there are some legal words that have totally different meanings in our everyday speech. To avoid ambiguity it is better to use other alternatives if there are any. It is also not recommended to use unknown words from the dictionary, in the meanings of which you are not certain. This may lead to serious misunderstandings.
Another thing that can be done to stick to the clarity of the sentences is to read out the difficult ones aloud. If you face obstacles in understanding your own sentences, you should definitely work on them again and paraphrase the sentence.
While writing a contract not only vocabulary is important but also grammar. Pay attention to the word order and Tenses and don’t use Advanced grammar patterns excessively, since it may also lead to some ambiguities for people who are not familiar with them.
Some more things to keep in mind:
- Start with an outline highlighting the key terms and conditions that must be included.
- Your first draft should be creative, thorough, and imperfect.
- Use simple, clear, businesslike language.
- Use technical terms only when you have to.
- Make each clause do only one thing.
- Break the whole contract down into a series of small parts.
- When revising, check for ambiguities.
- Revise only after stating all the ideas.
- Check for accuracy, organization, readability, and style.
- Remember that a good contract should be a contract readable, accurate, well-organized, and in one style.
The vocabulary we can encounter in contracts and legal language differs from everyday speech.
Here are several pairs of legal language and everyday speech.
- subject to/provided that – if
- to reconcile – to accept a disagreeable or unwelcome thing
- to commence – to start
- accurate – exact
- an outline – a plan
- to perform – to do
- to polish – to improve
- to obtain – to get
- to terminate – to finish
Check the links to find examples of useful language for drafting contracts.
For more information on the contract drafting, watch the video.
Speaking activities are, obviously, essential for English language speaking classes. A lot of students join classes particularly to develop their communicative competence, become more fluent, versatile, adaptable, and confident communicators in English. However, designing speaking activities might be time-consuming and nerve-wracking for any teacher. We have prepared a memo with superb ready-made speaking tasks that will make your student talking. Download it here.