WordWise: Best Practices in Document Design
Res Gestae: The Journal of the Indiana State Bar Association, Vol. 57, No. 10, June 2014
16 Pages Posted: 30 Apr 2014 Last revised: 23 Jul 2014
Date Written: April 29, 2014
Skillful writers think very carefully about what their readers want from documents written for those readers. Often, this consideration is confined to the substance of the writer’s message to the reader — in other words, what the writer will say to the reader. But a good writer also considers how that message will be communicated to the reader. This “how” includes the appearance of the document in which the message is conveyed, including the typeface and spacing used for the text in the document.
As lawyers, our readers are often “law-trained” readers, such as other lawyers and judges. Like other accomplished writers, we lawyers carefully consider what we’re going to say to these readers in the memoranda and briefs we write for them. But how often do we truly consider how we’re going to convey our message to them? How often do we ponder what an effective memo or brief should look like rather than merely what it should say?
Good document design is a key skill for attorneys to learn. Long gone is the era in which document design was constrained by the limited capabilities of the typewriter. In the digital world of the 21st century, word processing applications give us the basic tools that professional typographers use, allowing us to create documents that are aesthetically pleasing and easier to read. This article will discuss basic document design principles that will allow you to more effectively convey your message to a law-trained reader.
Keywords: Legal Writing, Document Design
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