Choosing names
Time to oppose an LASC writ application: 15 30 days

TMI—TF: too much information—too fast

I’ll start this post with some axioms: If we’re in the persuasion business, then what we say is far less important than what our audience grasps. If the audience fails to grasp our point, then the persuasion process has failed. And if the audience wants to grasp our point but fails to do so, a possible cause is our failure to communicate our point in a way that the audience can grasp. Thus, if we want to succeed in persuading the audience, then we want to make sure that we’re presenting our case in a way that the audience can readily grasp.

Acarte11If you’re with me up to here, then you need to know the stuff in Professor Andrew M. Carter’s article The Reader's Limited Capacity: A Working-Memory Theory for Legal Writers, 11 Legal Communication & Rhetoric: J. ALWD 31 (Fall 2014) (PDF download here). In his article, he makes several points that professional persuaders must know. The most important of these is the undeniable fact that humans’s capacity for processing information is limited. That limit applies not only to humans’ capacity to take in new information, but also to their capacity to tie that information to what they already know. Carter offers the metaphor of a juggler. If the juggler tries to juggle too many things at once, the juggler is likely to drop something. So it is when we ask our audience to juggle too many ideas at once: they’re liable to drop something. And what gets dropped will be the point we’re trying to communicate.

To avoid that result, Carter offers what he calls a “cognitive-load theory” of legal writing “to manage the reader’s working memory loads in order to maximize learning and reasoning.” He includes several tips for reducing the cognitive load we impose on our readers. The tips are important, but so is the science behind the tips. The article is only 20 pages long, so it’s well worth your time.



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