Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Text beneath point headings

A reader asks--
In a brief with numbered point headings, should the text immediately after each point heading summarize the point made in that section of the brief, even if it is just a restatement of the point heading in slightly different form? Or should you start the text following a numbered point heading as if the heading itself is the topic sentence of the next paragraph?
I consulted my colleagues, who are experienced teachers of legal writing and who include two former federal judicial clerks, and they all said the same thing, with which I agree:

Make the first sentence beneath a point heading an appropriate topic sentence; do not rely on the point heading itself as a sort of topic sentence. Even if doing it this way makes you feel that you're being redundant, that's fine.

We think that judges and their clerks, not to mention legal-writing teachers, often read the point headings in the table of contents to get a sense of the issues and arguments. Then when they (and we) read the argument section, they skip the point headings.

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