Writing Plain Language for Law

Legal language has an unfortunate reputation for many reasons. Since legal style clings to archaic words, structures and non-standard grammar and punctuation, it remains out of step with modern writing. It’s an area of special challenge for plain language writers and editors. Given the human costs of mistakes and misunderstandings in real life, legal language is a prime area for improvement.

In this course, you’ll learn how to modernize traditional legal language by applying the general guidelines and practices of plain language, as well as techniques for dealing with legal clichés and technical terms of law.

The final project for this course is due two weeks after the course ends (20 days after the last date listed in the schedule).

This course is available at the following time(s) and location(s):

Campus Session(s) Instructor(s) Cost Seats available  
Online - - TBD $370.00 30 Register

Instructional hours: 10

Schedule clarification: This course begins on the first date listed and ends six days after the last date listed. Between those times, you work at your own pace within the timelines set by the instructor.

What will I learn?

On completion of the course, you will be able to:

  • Convert non-standard, archaic legal grammar, punctuation and terminology to modern, standard English and to plain language
  • Modernize and update the structure and format of documents
  • Correct the most common style problems in legal language that make it aloof, impersonal and negative
  • Differentiate between readers’ identities and information needs for various legal fields and purposes like litigation, persuasion, advice letters, legal agreements or public education materials.

How will I learn?

Prepare to spend six to 10 hours per week on coursework, including:

  • Weekly course modules accessed through Canvas
  • Group assignments
  • Independent writing assignments
  • Extra reading
  • Online research and discussion groups

Course materials will be available 24/7, and assignment deadlines will be posted well in advance, allowing you to set your own pace for learning.

How will I be evaluated?

Evaluation methods may vary, but you will be evaluated using standard university evaluation approaches, such as a combination of examinations, projects, labs, papers, case studies, assignments and individual and group participation. An A to F letter grading scale will be used. To qualify for a certificate, you must successfully complete the program courses with an overall minimum B average.

Textbooks and learning materials

You are responsible for purchasing the required course text, available in print or e-book format.

All other course materials will be provided online.

Required text:

Stephens, C. Plain Language Legal Writing. Plain Language Wizardry, 2009. ISBN 978-055-7014507  (e-book available from

Hardware and software requirements 

We deliver this course using SFU's online course management system, Canvas. You will receive course details and Canvas access instructions on the first day of the course. You can check if your browser is compatible with Canvas here.

New to online learning? See About Online Learning for helpful videos and additional information.

English language requirements

To succeed in this course, you will need an advanced level of written and spoken English. If you are unsure whether your English language skills are sufficient, we recommend you complete the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) with the following minimums:

  • Overall band score minimum 6.5
  • No band below 6.0
  • Writing band score minimum 8.0

Please note we can’t refund your registration fees after the course start date if you find your English language skills are not adequate.

If you have questions or concerns about your English language proficiency, we encourage you to contact your local IELTS Test Centre.

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