Legal Writing Principle 6: Highlight the Gold
Learn to highlight the information that provides the most value to the reader and conveys the author's strongest arguments.
Neuroscience tells us that we remember things best when they stick out from the things surrounding them. We remember what’s different. The science also tells us that we’re persuaded by what we remember.
The takeaway: If you want to persuade, pick out the gold in your document and put it in neon lights so that it stands out from the noise. Your readers will be a lot more likely to remember these key points and, in turn, more likely to agree with you.
So how do you highlight that gold? The best way is with your writing style. People remember—and treat as more important—pithy writing. Vivid verbs, balanced sentences, and rhetorical flourish end up really mattering in the persuasion game. So take the extra time to use engaging and excellent style for the points you really care about.
These judges and attorneys all get the power of highlighting the good stuff:
Simile and Metaphor
Isocolon or Sets of Balanced Phrases or Sentences
Places of Emphasis
Another way to highlight is to insert the good things into the places of emphasis in your writing—the places that readers are most likely to read carefully and notice:
The beginning and ending of each section (introduction, fact, and analysis sections—really any standalone piece of your document).
The first sentences of a paragraph, and the last one, too.
Visuals, charts, or graphs just beg to be looked at.
Take the beginning of paragraphs. Readers pay a lot more attention there than they do in the middle:
Or take the end of sentences. Whatever idea you put there is instantly highlighted:
Examples and Hypotheticals
You can highlight important points by spending more time conveying their details and setting up a story. Examples and hypotheticals are also powerful ways of highlighting a bigger concept. Look at how this lawyer highlights the size of a class in a class action lawsuit using an example:
Or Justice Roberts doing the same in a famous refrain:
Direct dialogue can also engage your reader and make them pay attention to something important:
Don't expect your reader to remember what you think matters. Use the above techniques to highlight your important ideas, facts, and arguments in flashing neon lights.
Write.law co-founder Joe Regalia combines his experience as both practitioner and professor to create exciting new ways to teach legal skills. Learn more about Joe