Wednesday, March 5, 2008

maybe Courier is good for something . . .

Last week at the Defense Research Institute's Appellate Advocacy Seminar, I heard Ruth Anne Robbins talk to appellate lawyers about ways to improve their briefs' appearance and readability (based on her research in her well-regarded article, Painting with Print). Ruth Anne inveighs mightily against the voluntary use of the Courier typeface (while acknowledging that some of us are stuck with Courier due to archaic court rules).

Couriernew_2 One of the conference attendees was Ray Ward, blog-author of the (new) legal writer, and he's suggested a possible good use for Courier in a recent article he wrote for Certworthy. Ray recommends that we use ugly ol' Courier for our drafts because the prettiness of proportional fonts too often prevents our seeing the mistakes that lie there. He has a point: I'm all for anything that will help writers become better proofreaders. This may be worth a try.


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What Ray Ward and the others are really suggesting is for writers to draft in a font that contrasts with the submission font. Yes, we are back to the design principle of Contrast (the C of CRAP). By creating contrast the writer is forced to *see* what he or she has not yet revised. Creating that font contrast is a great idea and reminder system. But using Courier is not necessarily the best option for that contrast. Yes, the tone of Courier is absolutely “unfinished and ugly.” But it is also harder to read, or so say the educational psychology studies.

The better option, I think, probably comes from selecting a contrasting font that is proportionally-spaced but that still looks different enough from your “final draft font” to be quickly identifiable as the writer revises. As Ray himself points out, there are hundreds of fonts to choose from. Personally, if I was editing on the screen then I would probably go with a sans serif font as the draft font (remember that, as a general rule, sans serif fonts are more readable on the screen). If I was printing out and revising that way I would choose some alternate serif font or maybe I would still go with sans serif because the science of sans serif/print is a bit less sure.

Or, if printing price was of no consequence, I would probably draft in one color and not switch over to black/white until the language was polished and set. That would also create a nice contrast.

-Ruth Anne

Posted by: Ruth Anne Robbins | Mar 5, 2008 2:20:51 PM

I just wanted to add a note about the DRI Appellate Advocacy conference, which took place last week. I found the speakers and attendees to be dynamic and completely engaged in the process of legal writing. The questions they asked me – both during the presentation and before/after—were the kind that would make any legal writing professor weep with joy. And, here is another thing that absolutely amazed me: not one single person I spoke to asked me how to get a job as a legal writing professor. In my 11 years of teaching I have never before been in a room full of attorneys without getting that question at least once. The DRI conference attendees obviously all have a tremendous amount of job satisfaction (and why not? They are doing legal writing, after all).

Posted by: Ruth Anne Robbins | Mar 6, 2008 2:49:00 PM

I agree, Ruth Anne. And it's worth noting that there were some legal writing teachers in the audience. This organization sponsors an appellate advocacy seminar every 18 months or so. I recommend the next one to you, even not knowing yet what the program will be. It was that good.

Posted by: Coleen Barger | Mar 6, 2008 6:52:21 PM

The arguments for Courier are stronger than just that it provides contrast. One of the reasons I love Courier for drafts is that it is monospaced. With Courier, I can easily see how many spaces there are between words: with proportionally-spaced fonts, that's sometimes difficult.

Posted by: Mary Campbell Gallagher | Mar 7, 2008 11:59:09 AM

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