Decision-writing and Reasons-writing workshop

Taught by a retired judge of the County Court of Victoria, and a leading plain language trainer, this interactive workshop is for anyone who has administrative or statutory responsibilities that require them to write reasons or decisions.

In the interactive workshop, we explore the hallmarks of clear, accountable and reader-focused decision-writing and reasons-writing. Participants have their writing exercises reviewed by the presenters and the group.

The interactivity begins in the lead-up to the session, when we send participants a sample decision and ask them to consider a set of reflective questions as they review it. For this exercise, we can provide a sample decision or use one that the participants’ organisation provides

In the workshop, we discuss the decision and ask participants to rewrite parts of it in light of the material covered on the course.


The challenges of writing reasons and decisions

Many non-judicial bodies have broad responsibilities for making decisions that will significantly affect a range of stakeholders. Often, the reasons for their decisions must be provided and must be provided adequately ― indeed, a failure to provide adequate reasons may itself be a reason for the decision to be set aside or quashed.

The written decisions they generate directly affect how those stakeholders ― and the broader community ― view the fairness, impartiality, competence and credibility of the organisation.

For that reason, the decision documents will ― for better or worse ― form the voice of the organisation's brand. It is essential that the reasons and decisions promote and enhance the voice of the brand ― rather than corrupt or subvert it.

Accordingly, those decision and reasons documents must of course be technically sound ― accurate, substantively correct and legally defensible.  But crucially they also need to be documents that the various target readers would regard as 

  • clear;
  • concise;
  • navigable; and
  • credible.

Those readers include the lawyers for the represented parties, the members and the judges on appeal tribunals and on courts, but also, the citizens and organisations whose rights are being affected by the decision ― particularly, the losing party.


The presenters

The workshop will be run jointly by Bob Millstein and Tom Wodak.

  • Bob Milstein is a practising lawyer. He has run words and Beyond's flagship full-day plain language training product more than 400 times for a wide range of organisations including regulators, tribunals, government bodies and other decision-makers; and
  • Tom Wodak, a retired judge of the County Court of Victoria. Tom has enormous experience providing education on judgement writing to judges, tribunals and administrative bodies.


Course content

We offer several versions of an interactive workshop.

The shortest version, described below, is 4 hours long. We can deliver this in one day, or over 2 days. All sessions are tailored to address any relevant statutory, or jurisdictional issues, that inform the relevant writing responsibilities of the participants.


Session 1

The first session involves presentations from Bob and Tom about the principles of clear, comprehensive and defensible reason-writing and decision-writing. They will explore:

  • the rationale and purpose of writing reasons and decisions;
  • how to structure decisions;
  • what should be, and what should not be, discussed;
  • style and voice;
  • targets for your writing: reader-focused, clear decision-writing ― tips and traps; and
  • selecting and using words, creating sentences and paragraphs.


Session 2

The second session involves an interactive review, and reworking, of a sample decision document that participants will have been asked to review before the session. In this session, participants have an opportunity:

  • to reflect on their writing practices and the assumptions that underpin them;
  • to work together, and with the presenters, to dissect a decision and re-construct it in light of best practice;
  • to identify the key writing issues – and writing techniques — canvassed during the training which should inform their future writing.


Longer versions of the workshop allow more time for participants

  • to work on rewriting decisions extracts;
  • to discuss their rewrites with the presenters and with the group; and
  • to receive one-on-one written feedback on their own writing — either at after the session or during break between sessions.

If the session goes for longer than 4 hours, it is sensible to deliver it over several days. This gives participants the opportunity to do some “homework” between sessions. A key advantage of these homework exercises is that the participants get to write, or rewrite, a decision ― one of their own real decisions, at their desk ― that presenters review and discuss with them one-one-one.

We strive to help your people write documents that meet the International Plain Language Federation’s definition of plain language ― namely:

"A communication is in plain language if its wording, structure, and design are so clear that the intended readers can easily find what they need, understand what they find, and use that information."

International Plain Language Federation, definition

Our Managing Director, Christopher Balmford, is on the Federation’s board,

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