The Reader's Limited Capacity: A Working-Memory Theory for Legal Writers

21 Pages Posted: 10 Oct 2014

See all articles by Andrew Carter

Andrew Carter

Arizona State University- Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law

Date Written: October 8, 2014

Abstract

In pursuit of a foundation for a number of legal writing principles, this article explores the corner of cognitive science dedicated to working memory theory. In its broadest terms, working memory theory submits that humans process new information through a limited capacity system that both stores and manipulates new information to accomplish mental tasks. Because reading necessarily consumes the working memory resource, which has finite capacity, writing lawyers must actively manage the cognitive loads that their sentences and paragraphs impose on the reader. Practical applications of this broad insight, however, prove elusive in the absence of a model that can be easily commanded by the legal writer. Accordingly, this article plumbs the precepts and vocabulary of "cognitive load theory" to offer a practical framework through which legal writers can assess the working memory demands of their sentences and paragraphs.

Suggested Citation

Carter, Andrew, The Reader's Limited Capacity: A Working-Memory Theory for Legal Writers (October 8, 2014). Legal Communication & Rhetoric: JALWD, Vol. 11, Fall 2014. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2507482

Andrew Carter (Contact Author)

Arizona State University- Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law ( email )

Beus Center for Law and Society
Mail Code 9520, 111 E. Taylor Street
Phoenix, AZ 85004-4467
United States

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