Wednesday, February 8, 2023
Paragraphs and Pilcrows
This blog has featured paragraph-pertinent musings before. Today I hope to share a little about the petite pilcrow, offer some guidelines for proper paragraphing, and provide a tip for formatting with pilcrows in legal writing.
What is a pilcrow?
If you are an attorney, you have likely been using the pilcrow for years. I certainly have, but until today I did not know its name (how impolite!). The pilcrow is the paragraph symbol: ¶.
I stumbled upon a fascinating article on the origin of the pilcrow. According to the article, "pilcrow" evolved from the very fitting Greek word paragraphos for "write beside." It iterated through French (paragraph) and Middle English (pylcrafte) to "pilcrow."
The symbol was originally written on a page to signal changes in topic or speaker, similar to its function today. It started out looking like a K, then morphed into a C in a nod to "chapter" differentiation. Ultimately scribes added a line to the C to distinguish the mark from the rest of the sentence, then the symbol stretched and straightened into the ¶ we know today.
The symbols became quite ornamental, requiring extra time for decoration at the end of a written document, and when the scribes ran out of time to finish the decorating, they left out the pilcrows altogether. That is why we generally use pilcrows in legal writing only to separate statutory paragraphs and cite complaint allegations, not at the beginning of our paragraphs.
What is a proper paragraph?
If a pilcrow developed to separate speakers and topics, how do we mimic their function in our prose? Paragraphs should follow some basic guidelines in legal writing to make the document easiest to read and comprehend.
Contains an average of 150 words
As has been said, Bryan Garner recommends that paragraphs average about 150 words, and no more than 250 words. Some writers recommend three to eight sentences.
These are good rules of thumb. When your topic is complex or involves large or unfamiliar words, err on the side of fewer, shorter sentences in your paragraphs. Capitalize on readers' ability to process small chunks of information at a time and provide them necessary breaks in the word flow.
Conveys a distinct thought
Besides length, you can decide to start a new paragraph when you begin writing a distinct thought. While all thoughts in a brief should connect to the main idea and ultimately seek the same relief, slight variations in thoughts or angles of the argument should trigger new paragraphs. Cramming too much into one paragraph contradicts the small chunk principle and makes the reading a slog.
Has a topic sentence
In the same vein, every paragraph should have a topic sentence. The topic sentence signals what each paragraph is about and how it is different from the paragraphs before and after it. As you edit your writing, use your topic sentences to cut extraneous material from the brief. Legal writers should never aim to repeat themselves. Judges are intelligent folks. You need not say the same thing five different ways; once is sufficient.
Starts with a meaningful transition
Finally, while you need not repeat yourself when you have made your point, it is always beneficial to link distinct thoughts between paragraphs. Legal readers are looking for connections between concepts and logical through lines in your argument. Make those explicit.
How do I ensure my pilcrows never hang alone at the end of lines?
This is one of the easiest ways to clean up a brief before you even finish writing. You can eliminate lonely pilcrows hanging at the edges of lines of text by adding a nonbreaking space (CTRL + Shift + S) after every pilcrow. The nonbreaking space, which looks like a small open circle when you show formatting, holds the pilcrow and following number together (¶ 1).
You can even build in an automatic nonbreaking space every time you type a pilcrow using Word's AutoCorrect feature.
A. Insert > Symbol > More Symbols > Special Characters > Paragraph > Insert // Or type ALT + 0182
B. Insert > Symbol > More Symbols > Special Characters > Nonbreaking Space > Insert // Or type CTRL + Shift + S
Step 2: Copy those two characters (CTRL + C).
Step 3: File > Options > Proofing > AutoCorrect Options > Replace
Step 4: “Replace” box > Paste the two characters you copied (CTRL + P).
Step 5: Backspace over the nonbreaking space. Only one character should be in the box.
Step 6: “With” box > Paste the two characters again. Backspace over any additional space at the end. Only two characters should be in the box. One is your invisible nonbreaking space.
Step 7: OK
Presto! Proper paragraphs and partnered pilcrows in perpetuity.