Use Paragraphs intelligently; signpost your argument

The Art of Persuading Judges

Use Paragraphs intelligently; signpost your argument

Section headings are nor the only means of mapping your argument. Within each captioned section, paragraph breaks perform the same function. The first sentences of paragraphs (your fifth-grade teacher called them “topic sen­tences”) are as important as captioned section headings in guiding your readers through your brief-telling them what next thought is about to be discussed. Paragraph breaks should not occur randomly, inserted simply because the last paragraph was getting too long. They should occur when

You are moving on to a new sub point and wish to signal a change of topic.

One writer on brief-writing (who must remain nameless) suggests that no paragraph should be more than five sentences long. We think that’s bad advice. Your reader’s did ’t make it to bench by reading only classic Comics. Judges are accustomed to legal argumentation, which often – indeed, usually- requires more than five sentences to develop an idea. Use as many sentences as the thought

demands. If the paragraph is becoming unusually long (say a page of your brief), break the idea into two paragraphs if possible. (“Another factor leading to the same conclu­sion ….”) Some ideas will take only five sentences-indeed, some may take only three. But a brief with paragraphs of rigidly uniform length is almost sure to be a bad brief Use what it takes.

In helping the reader follow the progression of thought ­both between and within paragraphs-guiding words are essential. Consider the difference between the following two progressions: (1) “He is not a great sprinter. He came in third.” (2) “He is not a great sprinter. But he came in third.” The word “but” signals that the next thought will somehow qualify the point just made. Or your second sentence might have been “After all, he came in third”-the “After all” signifies that the upcoming thought will affirm the previous one. Or you might have used a subordinating conjunction: “Although he is not a great sprinter, he came in third.”

There are many such guiding words and phrases: more­over, however (preferably not at the head of a sentence), although, on the other hand, nonetheless, to prove the point, etc. These words and phrases turn the reader’s head, so to speak, in the direction you want the reader to look. Good writers use them abundantly.

Normally, the very best guiding words are monosyllabic conjunctions: and, but, nor, or, so, and yet. Professional writ­ers routinely put them at the head of a sentence, and so should you. There’s a myth abroad that you should never begin a sentence with a conjunction. But look at any species of reputable writing-whether it’s a good newspaper, journal, novel, or nonfiction work-and you’re likely to find several sentences per page beginning with one of those little connectives. You can hardly achieve a flowing narrative or argument without them.

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