Good Legal Writing: What's the Point?

  • 30 janvier 2023
  • Shelley Appleby-Ostroff

For more than 20 years, point-first writing has been touted as one of the most powerful legal writing techniques. But, what does it really mean to write point first—and why should you do it?

Legal writing contains a lot of detailed information. As readers, detailed information is easiest for us to absorb, understand, and retain when we first know why that information matters and how it's relevant. When presented with a lot of details before knowing why those details matter, we tend to skim and skip, and may even stop reading altogether.

So, if you want readers to understand and remember specific details, you should first provide them with context, then explain the point of the details. These two concepts are often referred to together as "point-first writing" or "context before details." Context and point answer the two questions uppermost in all readers’ minds when they read: “Why are you telling me this?” (context); and “What are you telling me?” (point).

While it might not be appropriate to write point first in all cases, you should always provide context before details. Context primes readers about what to look for as they read. When documents, sections, and paragraphs start by telling readers what’s important, they’ll look for that information as they read. When that information is presented later, they’ll quickly and easily understand it. Failing to provide context before details is like giving readers the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and asking them to fit the pieces together without showing them a picture of the completed puzzle.