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The importance of signposting — and following through

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Fall/Winter 2021-22 | Volume 105 Number 3 | Download PDF Version of Article
Person marking paper with red pen

Signposting is easy to illustrate. Not this: “The defendant claims . . . . The defendant also claims . . . . Finally, the defendant claims . . . .” But this: “The defendant makes three claims: (1) . . . , (2) . . . , and (3) . . . .” Or “The defendant makes three claims.” And then use sentences beginning with “First,” “Second,” “Third” (or “Finally”). Signposting is a great convenience to readers. And it serves to check the writer’s own organization, as the example below illustrates dramatically.

After having signposted, the writer must, of course, follow through in the same order, unless the shift is signaled with something like this: “To take them in reverse order.” But if that’s a better order, why not use it to begin with?

I used boldface to note the lack of signposting in the original opinion and its use in the revised version. You’ll see that in the original, the writer did not follow through on the order of the claims given in the first paragraph.

Also in the original opinion, I redlined a couple of repeated items: missing thats, and unnecessary acronyms and initialisms (never mind the technical difference). After most verbs, that provides a helpful joint and often prevents miscues. And let me say it again: a pox on unnecessary acronyms. (See the Summer 2021 column.)

Last note: I omitted citations.

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About Joseph Kimble

Joseph Kimble is an emeritus professor at WMU–Cooley Law School. He is senior editor of The Scribes Journal of Legal Writing, the editor of the Plain Language column in the Michigan Bar Journal, and the author of three books and many articles on legal writing (not to mention a children’s book). He served as drafting consultant on the projects to restyle the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Federal Rules of Evidence. Follow him on Twitter @ProfJoeKimble.