Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Do Judges Really Find Plain English More Persuasive?

According to one empirical study, the answer is yes. In the September 2011 issue of the Michigan Bar Journal, attorney Sean Flamer summarizes the results of his study Persuading Judges: An Empirical Analysis of Writing Style, Persuasion, and the Use of Plain English,16 Legal Writing: The Journal of the Legal Writing Institute 183 (2010).

Flamer mailed a variety of judges three versions of a response pleading: all judges received one in the conventional style, half received one in plain English, and half received one in informal plain English. The results:

A total of 292 judges returned the surveys—a response rate of 37%. Overall, the judges preferred the plain-English version to the original by 66% to 34%. More specifically,the rates for federal trial, federal appellate, state trial, and state appellate judges were 52%, 73%, 72%, and 65%. The judges’ location (rural versus urban area), age, gender,and years of experience did not correlate with which version they preferred.

Finally, the informal plain-English version did not fare quite as well, but 58% still preferred it. I believe, based on several judges’ comments, that the liberal use of contractions (most of them in the Introduction) may have been the reason for the 8% fall off.


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