Real Property Law

Persuasive Writing: Paragraphing for Lawyers ©

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April 2024

By Michael J. Simkin, Esq.

Beyond content, effective writing has a physical aspect: proper paragraphing. Paragraphing, which includes spacing and length, is a visual tool to understand your written argument. Similar to how intonation and volume emphasize points in verbal speech, breaks and lengths in paragraphs emphasize the pacing and flow of written words.

The end of a paragraph serves as a break for the reader exactly how pausing during an oral argument emphasizes your argument. Information communicated directly before the paragraph break will be more memorable than information stated in the middle of the paragraph. When a speaker pauses, anticipation builds for the words that follow. Knowing where to place the break will ensure the paragraph leaves an impact on the reader’s understanding of your legal position.

Paragraphing Decisions

Multiple dense or long paragraphs run the risk of the reader glossing over it and are fatiguing to read. A thick block of text may bury important information between not-so important information and may distract the reader or cause loss of focus. Subdividing paragraphs, so each paragraph has only one topic, will ease a reader’s understanding of the topic while sorting the argument into digestible chunks. A focused paragraph can also signal a transition or a highlighted argument.

There is also a place for longer paragraphs. A detailed legal analysis merits discussion in a longer paragraph to convey the scope of your issue and provide space to fully develop your ideas. In this case, you may want to avoid using too many short paragraphs, as doing so runs the risk of de-emphasizing your argument.

Some arguments can be expressed in a paragraph using “IRAC” but often the “IR” can be in one paragraph, with the “AC” in the subsequent paragraph. Just go with the flow and focus on the point you want to express. If the statute at issue has many elements, perhaps the “R” will be a standalone paragraph with some facts woven in leading to the “AC” in the subsequent paragraph.   

Additional Visible Tools

Make sparing use of formatting tools such as underlining, highlighting, capital letters, or subheadings. Excessive underlining or highlighting is tiring to read and makes it difficult to identify a place of focus. Just as with texting, ALL CAPS equates to screaming, which is unprofessional in a court setting.  Try italics, more subtle and classy.

Below are some tips written by Purdue University on how to vary paragraph length:

  • Put only one main idea per paragraph.
  • Aim for three to five or more sentences per paragraph.
  • Include on each page about two handwritten or three typed paragraphs.
  • Make your paragraphs proportional to the length of your brief. Shorter papers can use shorter paragraphs, longer paragraphs for longer papers. Arguments made in a “pocket brief” covering a single issue with few elements, may use paragraphs of three to four sentences.  While a brief with many issues you must still be cognizant of structuring the flow in the paragraph, but a ten-page motion can use longer paragraphs.
  • If you have a few very short paragraphs, think about whether they are really parts of a larger paragraph—and can be combined—or whether you can add details to support each point and thus make each into a more fully developed paragraph.

More effective legal writing resources:

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