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A social scientific look at the effects and effectiveness of plain language contract drafting

Dennis Paul Stolle, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Standardized form contracts are used in the majority of modern contractual transactions and have become an indispensable part of contemporary commerce. Unfortunately, form contracts sometimes include objectionable terms, are typically offered on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, and are often written in arcane legal jargon that is difficult for both non-lawyers and lawyers to decipher. To protect consumers and prevent the litigation that arises from the ambiguities and uncertainties surrounding the language of form contracts, many state and federal statutory provisions have been enacted that require certain form contracts to be drafted in plain language. Although the effectiveness of such statutes has been hotly debated within the legal and academic community, little empirical research has directly addressed the independent effects of statutory plain language provisions. This dissertation presents a two-study empirical investigation of plain language provisions that integrates both qualitative and quantitative methodologies. Study one applied qualitative methods to explore the nature and content of contract schemas. The contract schema information gained in study one was used to develop questionnaire items and to select independent variables and stimulus materials for study two. Study two applied quantitative methods adapted from jury instruction research to investigate the independent effects of common provisions of plain language statutes and common plain language drafting techniques on non-expert readers' level of comprehension and on non-expert readers' judgments of fairness, general importance, enforceability, typicality, and legal importance. The results are discussed in light of both contract schema theory and the ongoing debate over the utility of plain language legislation.

Subject Area

Social psychology|Law|Cognitive therapy|Rhetoric|Composition

Recommended Citation

Stolle, Dennis Paul, "A social scientific look at the effects and effectiveness of plain language contract drafting" (1998). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9839149.