LawProse Lesson #237: More than 50% of judges and lawyers
More than 50% of judges and lawyers read almost exclusively on a computer screen. What does this mean for legal writers? Three things, primarily:
1. Summarize. It’s important to learn the art of summarizing concretely. Avoid airy generalizations and instead make pithy, practical, vivid summaries. These should always appear at the fore. (By the way, a LawProse survey has demonstrated that 87% of headings that say “Executive Summary” are highly misleading: what follows is a true summary only 13% of the time.)
2. Give bearings. The architecture of your writing must be overt: you must use highly informative headings, preferably full sentences that amount to succinct propositions.
3. Cut the clutter. Clutter is more anathema than ever. With on-screen reading, it’s even easier to flick over pages with just a scan. Readers can skim page after page with just a swipe of the finger. So anything extraneous must be eliminated altogether or radically subordinated. Anything that sets the reader to skimming or skipping must go.
One last thought. Even though your readers will probably read on the screen, you must always edit any serious document by hand, after printing it out. Sending an important document without that step is a serious mistake.