SC Lawyer, Sept. 2004, #8. Paragraphs.

AuthorBy Scott Mo\xEFse

South Carolina Lawyer

2004.

SC Lawyer, Sept. 2004, #8.

Paragraphs

South Carolina LawyerSeptember 2004ParagraphsBy Scott Moïse"Doesn't anybody know what a topic sentence is anymore? Hasn't anybody ever heard of a transition?" grumbled an associate flipping through a brief as I passed him in the hall. In the course of his four short years out of law school, this associate has already learned the frustration of reading disorganized paragraphs that say nothing. Because we do not want similar frustrations from our audience - judges, clients, and other lawyers - legal writers need to go back to basics and ensure that each paragraph is well organized and developed.

Paragraphs serve many different purposes, so they vary in length, structure, and organization. See Thomas R. Haggard, Effective Paragraphs, Parts I and II, South Carolina Lawyer, July/August 1999, at 12; September/October 1999, at 12. Nevertheless, legal writers should follow five basic rules, which can be varied to suit the writer's purpose:

1. Begin with a thesis or topic sentence. 2. State your support for the thesis. 3. Keep the paragraphs concise. 4. Use transitions between points. 5. Conclude the paragraph.

  1. Begin the paragraph with a thesis or topic sentence: what is your point?

    Good thesis and topic sentences are like my brother's bird dogs: they unmistakably point out the subject. They set out the ideas that the reader will remember most clearly and, if written properly, will convince him to continue reading.

    The purpose of your paragraph will determine whether to use either a thesis or topic sentence. A thesis sentence states the writer's position in the paragraph. Probative paragraphs, such as in the "Argument" section of a brief, begin with thesis sentences. In legal writing you will use thesis sentences more often because the purpose is usually to advocate a position. An example of a thesis sentence is as follows:

    * Plaintiff's products liability claims must be dismissed because she has never identified a specific defect in the seat belt, a requirement under South Carolina law.

    On the other hand, a topic sentence states a topic without taking a position on the issue. Although it does not argue a position, the topic sentence does not need to be purely objective; in fact, in legal writing, the topic sentences may well be persuasive. Descriptive...

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