Saturday, January 1, 2011
Here's an example of a passage written two ways - one for a hardcopy reader and the other for an online reader. Can you guess which is which and why?
VERSION 1Schedule a room 3 ways:1. Use the Outlook calendar.2. Email Charlotte at email@example.com. Call Charlotte at 253-780-XXXX.Coffee: Visit the coffee room in the Conference Center.Lunch, snacks, and coffee delivery: Call the Ricoh Cafe at 253-723-XXXX to make arrangements.
VERSION 2Here are three ways to schedule a room:1. You can use the Outlook calendar.2. You can Email Charlotte at firstname.lastname@example.org. Call Charlotte at 253-780-XXXX.To find coffee: Visit the coffee room in the Conference Center.To have lunch, snacks, and coffee delivered: Call the Ricoh Cafe at 253-723-XXXX to make arrangements.
While hardcopy readers move their eyes across the page left to right, people reading electronic text tend to allow their eyes to skim and skip across the page, often scanning the left margin to hunt for the most pertinent information. According to the author of the Business Writing blog, Version 1 is better suited to an online audience because key words like "schedule, email, coffee, and lunch" are positioned in the left margin.
Nicholas Carr (among others), author of The Shallows, argues (here and here) that we read differently depending on whether the text is in hardcopy or electronic form. A difficult question for lawyers is knowing whether judges (and their clerks) will do most of their work-related reading online or will they instead print out hardcopies to "truck around" with them as Justice Kagan says she occasionally does. I've argued that anecdotal evidence suggests that sophisticated readers switch back and forth between hardcopy and electronic formats depending on whether they intend to read the material more closely or not. Another bit of evidence comes from Bill Gates who says that any e-document over four or five pages that he needs to read more carefully, he prints it rather than reading it online. (See Robert Darnton, The Case for Books: Past, Present and Future 69 (2009)
The question for skills profs is what this means in terms of training students to prepare legal documents. Do we teach them to write in a way that accommodates the "skim and skip" style of an online reader or should we assume that their audience is primarily going to read in a more traditional style (either by printing out the document or by disciplining themselves to read electronic text more carefully).
Hat tip to the Business Writing blog.