Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Defending the single-sentence question presented

A reader defends the single-sentence question presented:
Focus is my #1 reason: Limiting the Question Presented to one sentence forces the writer to focus on the overall issue that is addressed in the memorandum and the key facts that determine its outcome.
I say that one can maintain the same focus even if the issue statement is three sentences long. To me, it's a matter of mental discipline, not the number of sentences.
Brevity is my #2 reason; 75 words is still way too long, be they contained in one sentence or more than one. About 30 to 40 words ought to suffice.
It's hard to argue with this. I'm a big fan of brevity, and 30-40 words will take the reader half as long to get through as 75 words. Point well taken.

I will only respond this way: For plenty of legal writers, executing of the 30-word, single-sentence question presented is a problem. Since it's not usually possible to cram much detail or specifics into 30 or 40 words, these short, single-sentence questions tend to be superficial and abstract, like this:
Does substantial evidence of record supports the ALJ's decision to deny disability benefits to the claimant?
And this:
Will a trial court deny Smith's Motion to Transfer Venue on the ground that Travis County is a proper venue?
Or they tend to be awkwardly constructed because the writer is trying to get a lot of information into one sentence, like this:
Is the evidence legally and factually sufficient to support the judgment that the wrapping and packaging exclusion to the resale exemption to the Texas sales tax applies to HWC's purchase of nonreturnable reels required in wire product assemblies that HWC sold to its customers?
These examples show what I all too often see when legal writers strive to keep the question presented to a single sentence. Maybe it's just poor execution, but I think the multiple-sentence approach, even if it is a bit long at times, is better because it allows the writer to get some details in there and make the text more readable.

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