Top Tips for Decision Writers, Part 1

I recently presented my “top tips” for decision writers at a decision writing seminar. I’ll set them all out in this next series of posts. The list is in no particular order.

1. Read lots of decisions – good readers make good writers. Sometimes you learn more from poorly written decisions than the good ones, but you always learn something from reading decisions of others.

2. Find a colleague whose decisions you find well written and engage them in a discussion to get tips. There are many ways to approach decision writing, and as with any craft, talking to an experienced writer can reveal new approaches.

3. Make sure you know the broad legal issues in a case before hearing submissions so you can raise issues with parties that they have not addressed (this saves time later).

4. Get a handle on submissions before doing your analysis. Although you don’t have to address all the submissions in your decision, you have to address the main ones. It helps to understand those submissions before you start your reasons.

5. Don’t write angry. Emotions don’t translate well in decision writing and, it can be argued, have no place in writing that is supposed to be cooly rational. After an emotional hearing, you’re better off taking a break before starting to write.

6. Write the best decision you can, under the circumstances. Perfection is unattainable and each decision is not destined for greatness. And there is always another decision waiting to be written. This is not an excuse to rush decision writing, but a recognition that a “late-but-perfect” decision is not as good as a “good-enough and timely” one.


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Columns published on

"Chapter 22: Unions and Collective Agreements", in Palmer and Snyder, Collective Agreement Arbitration in Canada, 4th edition, 2009 and 5th edition, 2013.

“Non-consensual expedited processes: the intersection of fairness and expediency”, Lancaster House.

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