Professors craft complex and nuanced fact patterns for their exams. They spend a great deal of time drafting exam problems without clear answers, problems that allow students to differentiate themselves based on their grasp of the material. Do not insult them by including words or phrases like the following in your answers: “clearly,” “obviously,” “the only sensible conclusion,” “without a doubt.”
First of all, those words are inapposite, as the answer will not be clear or obvious. Trust me. Second, those words are rude because the professor wrote the exam to test the edges of your knowledge, not your grasp of the obvious. Accordingly, such descriptions are likely to irritate your professor. And clearly you do not want to do that.
Instead, use words and phrases that honor the complexity of the fact pattern and the competing legal, equitable and policy interests at stake. For instance, rather than saying “clearly, he is liable,” how about “taken as a whole, applicable precedent indicates that a court is likely to find him liable.” In lieu of “without a doubt,” try “the strongest argument” or “although a defensible argument could be made that X, a better legal conclusion is Y.”
Originally published 2009-11-14. Republished 2016-12-07.