​ሕግንና ደንብን በተመለከተ እርዳታ ማግኘት ይፈልጋሉን? - Amharic | هل تحتاج لمساعدة قانونية؟ - Arabic | ܤܢܝܼܩܵܐ ܝ݇ܘ̤ܬ ܠܗܲܝܵܪܬܵܐ ܩܵܢܘܿܢܵܝܬܵܐ؟ - Assyrian | Need Legal Help? - Auslan | Treba li vam pravna pomoc? - Bosnian | Burmese â Need Legal Help? | 需要法律帮助吗? - Chinese Simplified | 需要法律幫助嗎? - Chinese Traditional | Trebate li pravnu pomoć? - Croatian | ضرورت به کمک قانونی دارید؟ - Dari | Wïc Kuɔɔny në Wɛ̈t Löŋ? - Dinka | آیا به کمک حقوقی نیاز دارید؟ - Farsi | Gadreva na Veivuke Vakalawa? - Fijian | Kailangan ninyo ba ng tulong na panglegal? - Filipino | Besoin d’aide juridique ? - French | Χρειάζεστε βοήθεια σε νομικά ζητήματα - Greek | क्या आपको कानूनी सलाह चाहिए? - Hindi | Butuhkan Bantuan dalam Masalah Hukum? - Indonesian | Hai bisogno di assistenza legale? - Italian | ត្រូវការជំនួយលើបញ្ហាផ្លូវច្បាប់ឬទេ? - Khmer | 법적인 도움이 필요하십니까? - Korean | Ви треба ли помош со правни работи? - Macedonian | कानूनी सहयोग चाहिएको छ? - Nepalese | Necessita de ajuda com questões jurídicas? - Portuguese | Вам нужна юридическая помощь? - Russian | E Manaomia Fesoasoani i Mea Tau Tulafono? - Samoan | а ли вам треба помоћ у правним питањима? - Serbian | Ma u baahan tahay Caawimmad xagga sharciga ah?- Somali | ¿Necesita ayuda con cuestiones jurídicas? - Spanish | சட்ட உதவி தேவையா? - Tamil | ท่านต้องการความช่วยเหลือทางด้านกฎหมายไหม? - Thai | Fiema’u ha tokoni Fakalao? - Tongan | Yasal Danışmaya İhtiyacınız mı var? - Turkish | Cần Được Giúp Đỡ Về Luật Pháp? - Vietnamese |
LawAccess NSW > Representing Yourself - LawAssist > Legal Skills > Reading and writing legal documents

Writing skills

If you have to write a legal document, it can be hard to work out where to start. This page will help you gain the skills you need to make sure that the documents you write are clear and effective.

Hint icon For a helpful tool to use when writing a legal document, see Checklist: Writing.

You should: ​

    ​Read the documents that relate to your case

    Before you start to write your document, you should read all the documents relating to your case. This can help you understand the issues that are in dispute. It can also help you refresh your memory. If you are having trouble reading the documents, think about whether there is someone who might be able to help you (for example a friend or staff at your local community centre).

    For more information on how to read legal documents, see Reading legal documents.

    Plan what you are going to write

    Before writing your legal documents, you should plan what you are going to write. You should think about:

    • who you are writing to
    • the type of document you are writing
    • why you are writing
    • what you want to say
    • writing in drafts.

    Once you have written a draft of your document, you can use the information below to prepare revised drafts of your legal document until you are happy with the final version.

    Use a standard format

    You should make sure that the document you write is presented in an easy to read and common format. It's best to type your document on a computer, however, if you have to hand-write it you should make sure your handwriting is clear and able to be read by others. You may be able to access computer facilities at a library, school or internet cafe. Any typed document should, where possible:

    • use a standard font such as Arial or Times New Roman. It can be very difficult to read a document written in a fancy or unusual font
    • use margins that are at least 2.5cm in from the left and right side of the page as well as the top and the bottom
    • use A4 paper size where appropriate
    • be in a portrait page set-up (rather than landscape)
    • align words to the left, or justify your text. Readers read from left to right.           

    Make the layout easy to read

    You should make sure that your document doesn't confuse the reader with large chunks of text, or tiny letters and words. The use of spacing is a simple and effective way of making your document easier to read.

    Remember to:

    • use a font size that is not too small and not too big, for example size 10 to 12
    • divide the document into paragraphs, with each paragraph setting out a separate idea
    • keep paragraphs short
    • logically organise the information in your document and use headings where appropriate
    • leave enough space so that the page doesn't seem crowded with words
    • use dot points or numbered lists
    • use black ink if you are writing the document on your computer, or use blue or black pen if you are writing your document by hand.

    Check your grammar and spelling

    It is important to read over your document a few times and check your spelling and grammar. Poor spelling and grammar may make your document difficult to read, and may also affect the way the reader understands and interprets your document.

    Remember:

    • don't rely on spell check. It may correct the spelling of words but it doesn't tell you if you've used the wrong word (for example 'their' or 'there')
    • read what you've written and make sure it makes sense. Sometimes it helps to read documents out loud. This will help you work out if there are any sentences which are too long or confusing
    • re-read your final version before you send it
    • you can ask a friend or family member to read your document for you and tell you what they think it means (to make sure that your document is easy to understand and that there are no spelling mistakes).

    Use plain English

    You should try to write in plain English and avoid using legal jargon. This is particularly important if you don't know what certain words mean. If you use big or complicated words or too many words, the reader may find your document difficult to understand or misinterpret what you are saying.

    Remember to keep your sentences short, simple and clear.

    Hint icon If a lawyer writes you a letter that is wordy and filled with jargon, you do not need to write a letter that is similar. It is always best to keep things simple.

    If you want to know more about how to understand legal jargon used in documents you have received, see Reading legal documents.

    Avoid slang and swear words and keep things professional

    Although being involved in legal disputes can be emotional, you should avoid using emotional language when writing legal documents. Swearing should be avoided at all costs, as it can make the situation worse.

    Keep in mind that what you write may be read by a lawyer or court staff and they may not know your case as well as you do. They will not have invested as much time and energy into it as you have. Don't put your personal feelings in your document. Try to focus on the facts.

    Hint icon An exception to not using slang and swear words is if you are writing an affidavit or statement and you are writing what you or someone else said. You should always use the exact words that were said in those cases.

    Make sense

    It is important that any legal document you write makes sense. If it is a letter, it should get to the point. If it is a Statement of Claim for a small claims matter in the Local Court, it should set out your claim and briefly explain what your claim is based on (for example a contract to pay money for services).

    When writing any legal document you should:

    • write it in date (chronological) order from oldest to newest if possible
    • keep different issues separate by using paragraphs or dot points
    • avoid irrelevant information. For example, don't try and explain your case if you are writing a letter asking only for an adjournment. Also, don't include information about why you dislike the other party if you are writing to them or their lawyer. If you are unsure what is relevant, see Checklist: Writing.

    For information on how to read legal documents, see Reading legal documents.​