Convert High-Effort Documents
Applying this advice isn’t easy. When we ask readers to take on a new legal topic, apply critical reasoning, and reach complex conclusions, we’re asking for peak cognitive performance. If we want to persuade our readers, we must help them move beyond merely processing the words we’ve written to understanding our meaning and feeling our sense of justice. To get there, we must improve document presentation and organize our writing to compensate for the difficulty of the content. The more brainpower a reader must devote to figuring out our sentences, the less they can dedicate to understanding our meaning. So what steps can legal writers take to ease brain strain?
Revise and Reorganize Before Editing
Obvious and visible structure is one of the most effective ways to reduce brain strain for readers. Even if you outlined your work before writing, you may discover more effective ways to group concepts while you were writing. So be open to overhauling your organization. Organize concepts logically so the connection between each paragraph and each sentence is clear.
Professor Carter suggests grouping concepts together in smaller “chunks” by conceptual relationship and drawing on contextual knowledge from the document structure. To “chunk,” the writer defines a category, relates information within the category, and then uses the established relationship between items in the category to represent a complex concept. Each chunk of information should have obvious, specific psychological significance. And when the chunking is based on simple categories, it eases brain strain and increases understanding.
To employ chunking, you may need to reorganize your entire document. And because you may make large-scale organizational changes to your document, it’s best to work on organizational clarity before moving on to editing.
Edit to Reduce Strain
After reorganizing and revising, edit to reduce brain strain. Ease brain strain by reducing distracting details, deleting unnecessary abstract concepts, and simplifying complex sentence structures. Rewrite winding sentences and cut multiple dependent clauses. Add headings, subheadings, and signposts throughout your document.
Question whether every legal term you’ve used is truly necessary vocabulary. Replace unfamiliar words with simple, familiar ones. This makes it feel easy for the reader to receive and process information. Easily understood information inspires trust and confidence. At first, editing to reduce brain strain for your reader will be difficult, but over time you will get better.
Unfortunately, most people skip the revising and editing process or leave too little time to do it properly. Effective writers reserve 35% of their time for revising, editing, and proofreading their work. If you’re short on time, simplifying words is one of the most effective ways to ease brain strain. WordRake can help you work through the editing process quickly and confidently.
Let’s return to our juggling analogy. Are you minimizing and streamlining the items your reader must juggle, or are you constantly adding odd-shaped surprise items and demanding they juggle while unicycling? When your reader feels more like a circus clown and less like a graceful performance artist, the reader is experiencing brain strain—and the reader blames you. Reduce their brain strain and gain their trust by committing to better editing. WordRake can help free for 7 days.
Great organization, plain language, and clear and concise writing are the antidotes to brain strain. So what are you doing to help your readers?
About the Author
Ivy B. Grey is the Chief Strategy & Growth Officer for WordRake. Prior to joining the team, she practiced bankruptcy law for ten years. In 2020, Ivy was recognized as an Influential Woman in Legal Tech by ILTA. She has also been recognized as a Fastcase 50 Honoree and included in the Women of Legal Tech list by the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center. Follow Ivy on Twitter @IvyBGrey or connect with her on LinkedIn.