American Judges Association


Date of this Version

July 2001


Published in Court Review: The Journal of the American Judges Association, 38:2 (2001), pp. 30-35. Copyright © 2001 National Center for State Courts. Used by permission. Online at


If you value clarity, if you insist on lighting the way for your reader, then you’ll provide good summaries where they belong in just about every piece of legal writing: up front. You should always have one at the beginning or near the beginning, and if you’re dealing with multiple issues, you should have one at the beginning of each issue. Call them what you will—summaries, overviews, brief answers, thesis statements, synopses—they are central to clear writing:

A vast amount of empirical research has studied the effects of overviews on learning from written prose. The research support for this principle is broad and consistent. . . . [T]he support is sufficiently broad to establish the general value of overviews for understanding written text in any environment and for any audience.

All legal writing should be front-loaded. It should start with a capsule version of the analysis. It should practice the art of summarizing.

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