My colleague Diana Simon has a short article up on SSRN about the importance of transitions in legal writing, which is set to be published in Legal Communication and Rhetoric: JALWD. The article has been on my “to read” list for a while, and I took some time to read it today. I am so glad I did, because I learned a lot (see, I just used a transition there–proof that I learned a lot).
Diana divides her article into three main points (more on the “power of three” later). First, she delves into the science behind transitions. She shares studies that show a correlation between reader comprehension and the use of transitions. These studies were interesting to me, because I sometimes feel that students overuse some connecting words like “therefore.” I also feel like students might try to string sentences together with transitions when these sentences are easier to comprehend when separate into their distinct components. I guess that means that the students are just not using the transition words correctly.
Diana then uses music and stand-up comedy as two examples where we see transitions in action. I found the stand-up comedy example to be extremely compelling, and I thought about the various stand-up comedians that I have seen on T.V. or in person. They do seamlessly transition between seemingly unconnected ideas, usually stringing them together with one weak, but funny, thread. While judges might not enjoy reading about how changing diapers relates to shopping at the hardware story and also relates to going out to dinner, the notion of a common thread or theme throughout an appellate brief is not a new one. Using that theme to transition between ideas is incredibly effective.
Finally, Diana talks about the different types of transitions, giving examples of many of them. This nuts and bolts section was incredibly useful, and I plan on assigning it to my students to review as they write their appellate briefs. Understanding how transitions work and the types of transitions that exist will definitely help my students use transitions more effectively. She ends her discussion here with the importance of the number three, noting that there seems to be increased understanding and acceptance of things that come in threes. She gives some examples (to which I would add the three point sermon). This fixation on threes in popular culture, however, does translate to legal writing. In working on the third edition of Winning on Appeal, we found that judges, in general, wanted no more than three issues raised on appeal. The number of judges that settled on that number three was quite high.
Congratulations to Diana on the excellent piece.