The left-right principle revisited

Those who follow this blog regularly, know that I am most fascinated by the left-right principle: a very powerful drafting principle that helps making your texts read (considerably) easier. I recap a few previous notes on this and elaborate on the principle here.

Left-right principle. You will make reading easier if you formulate the sentence such that it reads from a known or familiar context into the main message. In many languages, the unguided reader will read to the end of a sentence in an (unspoken) ascending or descending tone. At the end of the sentence, where the tone reaches the peak (or bottom), the reader unconsciously ‘seeks’ the most important information. This is called the left-right principle and may help the writer structure a text and each sentence.
Somehow, it applies to structuring sentences, to structuring a paragraph or section and to structuring your entire contract and even the set of transaction documents. The principle implies that simple matters are addressed first and complications later on in the sentence, paragraph or contract[1].
If the most important information is halfway through the sentence, the reader may miss the importance or even the entire point. Contract clauses should adopt the left-right principle by limiting and structuring the information in the sentences of a section. For example: A is followed by B and C. B implies D. C causes E. D and E support the conclusion F.

The left-right principle somewhat discords with how people think: a normal person starts with the main point and then deals with the exceptions and limitations. You would make the reader comfortable by first driving your point home. The left-right principle on the other hand, suggests using familiar concepts and a known context first and then work towards the key point. A technique to redress this discordance is to limit the scope of a sentence to introducing only one or two ‘new things’ per sentence.

[1]              See also: Joseph M. Williams, Style – Lessons in clarity and grace, Pearson Longman 2007 (9th ed.), 92 ff.

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