Can Visualizations Make It Easier to Understand Defined Terms?

Via @bradleybclark and this post on Legal Informatics Blog, I learned of a paper entitled “Software Tools for the Visualization of Definition Networks in Legal Contracts.” It’s by Michael Curtotti and Eric McCreath, both of Australian National University, and Srinivas Sridharan of the University of California, San Diego. Here’s the abstract:

This paper describes the development of prototype software-based tools for visualizing definitions within legal contracts. The tools demonstrate visualization techniques for enhancing the readability and comprehension of definitions and their associated characteristics. This contributes to more accurate and efficient drafting or reading of contracts through the exploration of the meaning and use of definitions including via word clouds, multilayer navigation, adjacency matrix and graph tree representations.

I quickly skimmed the article, and one idea that caught my eye was the notion that by clicking on a defined term (or, presumably, hovering over it) you could open a pop-up window with the definition of that defined term, which would spare you having to refer constantly to the definition section.

But I see one problem and a couple of alternatives.

The problem: it would be awkward to capture an integrated definition, as opposed to an autonomous definition, in a pop-up window, and the benefits of the pop-up arrangement wouldn’t seem compelling enough to warrant forgoing integrated definitions.

The alternatives: If you’re reading an electronic version of a contract, you could open two windows on your screen (or use two monitors), with one showing the definition section and the other showing whatever part of the remainder of the contract that you happen to be reading. But more fundamentally, if you do as I recommend and define the important stuff “on site,” readers won’t have to keep flipping to the definition section and back again, thereby reducing the need for a pop-up arrangement.

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.