How bad typography breeds bad laws #writinglegally

Posted on 10-20-2014 by
Tags: writinglegally , legal writing , Upgrading Your Skills , #writinglegally , writing

Photo Credit: Murat Baysan /

Say you join the bandwagon and buy yourself the new iPhone 6. Imagine your excitement when you rip the packing open and hook it up to your computer and begin setting it up. You’re flying through initial setup stuff when “WHAM!” you’re hit with the block of “caps locked” text disclaimer. All happiness is gone as you are immediately overwhelmed with pages of text.

Chances are most of us read only a couple lines in before we skip over it and “agree” to the terms so we can go on and listen to some music. In a recent article by lawyerist, this “common practice” is similar to the same standards that are dictated by lawmakers when drafting laws – actually discouraging people from reading the language of the law.

According to typographic studies, when we are faced with reading all-caps text our reading speed has proven to decrease anywhere between 13-20 percent. Another reason for a decrease in reading speed doesn’t involve the size of word, but the shape it makes.

“When we read, we don’t actually look at every letter in a sentence, but actually the shapes of the words. When text is in All Caps, the height of every letter is identical making every word an even rectangular shape, forcing us to read letter-by-letter, reducing our reading speed. ..”

Reading on the computer turns out to cause us to be slower than reading on paper – 25 percent slower to be exact. The legalese included in passages like disclaimers or other pieces of legislative writing sometimes paint us very vague ideas of what the document is trying to say and as a result sometimes we are left confused.

So if some documents are so poorly-written, is there any way to fight them? While technically you can try to fight it, almost every time the customer loses those battles. In fact, despite the fact a company may have made something too vague, the customer is still held responsible according to some courts.

Courts have even held that it does not matter if you do not click through and read the gazillion pages of conditions. Simply by being near them or performing certain actions like purchasing tickets will be enough for a court to presume you knew what you were getting into.”

For now though we are forced to wait for a case where incomprehensible language effects an immense amount of people and forces legislators to cut back or possibly eliminate confusing, but required, terms in the law.

Ultimately, all this bad legislative writing should be adding up to a cautionary tale for legislators and the public. Somewhere there is a lawsuit lurking that will invalidate something critical, something large, something that voids language that affects a ton of people. Perhaps that is just what legislators need to have happen in order to stop including incomprehensible-but-required provisions in the law.

What do you think? Are there any examples that stand out for you? Please ‘join in the conversation’ below to tell us your thoughts.

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