COUNSEL, CHUBB GROUP OF
When lawyers see the term “readability,” they often
think about it in the context of “plain English” contract requirements. But readability is a much broader
concept than that — it is a measure of how well and
how easily a given piece of text conveys its intended
meaning to a reader. As lawyers, we should do everything we can to make sure our words are effective.
Because the written word is such a critical part of any
lawyer’s toolkit, I am going to address the ways that
technology can improve the readability of your writing so it will have a stronger impact on your audience.
Readability is influenced by a number of factors:
■ ■ Physical factors such as typeface, font size,
spacing, and layout;
■ ■ Vocabulary difficulty;
■ ■ Text structure and syntax; and,
■ ■ Text coherence and cohesion.
Let’s start with the first one. In his great book
Typography for Lawyers, Matthew Butterick
describes how the proper use of typography can
result in better readability and greater impact. To
summarize and supplement a few of his points:
■ ■ Forty years ago most lawyers had to be content
using whatever font types shipped with their
typewriters. Thanks to computers, we now
have access to many hundreds of different fonts
however, not all of them are created equal.
It should go without saying that many fonts
should not be used for legal work. For example,
web fonts may not be the best choice for use on
paper and vice versa.
■ ■ Unless a particular rule dictates what
typography you can use, you should select fonts
that make it easier for your intended audience to
read. Fonts that are too hard to read or appear
too dense will reduce your document’s impact.
■ ■ There is some debate about whether Serif or
San Serif fonts are better from a readability
perspective. Such sweeping generalizations are
misleading because there are hundreds of good
and bad fonts in each type.
■ ■ Everyone has experienced a time when they’ve
looked at a document and thought that the fonts
looked old-fashioned, hard to read, or distracting.
I bet that if you take the time to look at the
available options, you’ll find that some fonts
make reading more enjoyable. You should want
your writing to be formatted in the latter camp.
■ ■ Even (and especially) lawyers should not be
guilty of writing in “fine print.” Font size for
print on paper should be between 10 to 12
points. However, since different fonts appear
larger or smaller at the same font size, you
will need to adjust accordingly to the font you
select. Our goal should simply be to convey our
meaning as painlessly and effectively as possible.
■ ■ The spacing between lines should be 120 to 145
percent of the point size. So, for a 12-point font,
you might want to set the line spacing (Format
→ Paragraph → Line spacing: exactly) at around
16 points. The spacing between paragraphs
should be large enough to make it easy to see
the break, but not so large that it disrupts the
continuity of the reading experience. For most
situations, somewhere between four and eight
points should work.
■ ■ Line length is the number of characters
(including spaces) contained on each line. As a
reader, it takes considerably more effort for our
eyes to track words in a line that has too many
characters in it. Once you have chosen your font,
this is mostly a function of your margins. Set
your margins (Format → Document → Margins)
so that the line length is between 45-90 characters
per line. I usually find that mirrored margins of
1. 2 – 1. 5 inches ( 3 – 3. 8 cm) will do the trick.
If you want to learn more about the science behind these recommendations, you should check
I have previously recommended the use of MS
Word’s Styles to save you from getting lost in for-
matting brambles. Unfortunately, Word’s default
Styles doesn’t do a great job in font selection, but
you can easily change the defaults by modifying
a selection of text and then selecting “Update to
Although most lawyers find spell check
indispensable, they are not all so keen on using
grammar check. You might find it more useful if
you tweak the tool to your liking. On Word for
Windows go into File → Options → Proofing →
Writing Style → Settings (on Word for Mac go into
Preferences → Spelling & Grammar → Writing
Style → Settings). There you will be able to set it to
recognize complex words, passive voice, and many
others that can influence readability. ACC
HOW TO EFFECTIVELY USE TECHNOLOGY