Legal Writing

How — and Why — to Write Great Thesis Sentences

Professor Michael Higdon of UNLV’s William S. Boyd School of Law has an excellent article about thesis sentences in the September 2007 Nevada Lawyer.  It’s so good, you don’t want opposing counsel to see it, at least not until after they’ve written their briefs.

Of particular value to appellate lawyers is this point about the value of good thesis sentences to the writer:

Finally, thesis sentences are particularly beneficial for the legal writer who is seeking to persuade.  Psycholinguists (scientists who study the psychology of language) have discovered that readers subconsciously pay closer attention to things that come at the beginning and end of a document or a discreet unit of a document such as a subsection or even a paragraph within the overall document.  Armed with this knowledge, the persuasive legal writer is well-served to place the most persuasive information in a position where the legal reader is likely to pay greater attention.  The first sentence of a paragraph is such a position; thus, putting a strong statement about the law and how it advances the legal writer’s argument in that position is more likely to receive the notice of the legal reader.

You may have already known that readers react this way.  But that’s just the “why.”

Unless you’re writing great thesis sentences in your briefs — i.e., practicing the “how” — you’re not taking full advantage of the “why.”  Read Professor Higdon’s article for the “how.”

Unless I’m opposing counsel on one of your cases.  In which case, I’d prefer that you didn’t.

Thanks to Legal Writing Prof Blog for the link.