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How to Write Effective Argument Headings

how to write effective argument headings

Argument headings (also called point headings) play two important roles in legal briefs. First, they serve a rhetorical purpose: they let the reader know what’s addressed in the text that follows and (if effectively phrased) point the reader toward the conclusion the writer wants the reader to draw.

Second, they serve a practical purpose. Unfortunately, busy judges don’t always have sufficient time to devote to closely reading briefs. Even judges who don’t read every brief in its entirety can generally be counted on to read the point headings. Argument headings also help conscientious judges who have read your entire brief, but could benefit from the quick refresher they can get by scanning the argument headings. (This is often the case with appellate judges, who might read the parties’ briefs weeks or months before oral argument.)

Here are three tips to help you write effective argument headings:

  1. Phrase argument headings as complete sentences. Complete ideas are expressed in full sentences. You wouldn’t use a sentence fragment anywhere else in your brief; why would you want to use a fragment in a heading, where it will stand out? Note that there should be a period at the end of an argument heading. Example: The Court should deny Acme Supermarket’s summary judgment motion because there is a material issue of fact concerning whether Acme had actual or constructive notice of the broken olive oil bottle in aisle seven. (not: Existence of a material issue of fact)
  2. Phrase each argument heading as a positive argument for your position. This tip flows from the argument heading’s role as a rhetorical tool. A neutral heading (which is often also a segment fragment) represents a lost opportunity to persuade. Example: The Court should deny Acme Supermarket’s summary judgment motion because there is a material issue of fact concerning whether Acme had actual or constructive notice of the broken olive oil bottle in aisle seven (not: Summary judgment standard)
  3. Make only one argument per heading. Argument headings divide the argument section of your brief into digestible parts. As such, they are an important organizational tool. A heading that contains multiple arguments should be broken down into separate headings (each followed by one or more paragraphs of argument), or into a heading and two or more subheadings.

Example:

  1. The Court should deny Acme’s summary judgment motion because there is a material issue of fact concerning whether Acme had actual or constructive notice of the broken olive oil bottle in aisle seven.
  2. The Court should deny Acme’s summary judgment motion because, as a matter of law, Acme had no duty to Smith.

(not: The Court should deny Acme’s summary judgment motion because there is a material issue of fact concerning whether Acme had actual or constructive notice of the broken olive oil bottle in aisle seven and because, as a matter of law, Acme had no duty to Smith.)

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