On Using a Two-Column Format

In MSCD, at 12.20, I say “the need to distinguish between sections, subsections, and enumerated clauses and sub-clauses means that using columns is not an option.”

We’ll, it’s time to rethink that. I’ve been experimenting with a two-column version of the MSCD format, and it isn’t half bad. Click here for a PDF of one-page examples of the same text in the standard MSCD one-column format (using Arial 10 point) and in the two-column format (using Arial 8 point). (I used Arial because I’ve been working on commercial agreements for a company in a technical industry, and like many such companies they prefer Arial over a serif font such as Times New Roman.)

Using Arial 8 point allows you to preserve the distinction between sections, subsections, and tabulated enumerated clauses. It would be a little awkward to use tabulated enumerated sub-clauses (in the MSCD numbering scheme, “(A)” and lower), but you don’t often need them.

Using Arial 8 point also allows you to cram in the words. The single-column example contains 522 words whereas the two-column example contains 967 words—an 85% increase.

When would you use this format? When space is truly at a premium. This is often the case with lengthy commercial contracts—business people can be relied on to plead for fewer pages. I wouldn’t recommend using the two-column format as your default format—8 point text is too small for that.

For the sake of simplicity, the examples contain only text from the body of the contract. If I were doing an entire contract in two columns, I would retain the one-column format for the title (obviously), the introductory clause, the recitals, the lead in, any article headings, and the concluding clause. Whatever the format, signature blocks can be placed one above the other or side by side, as I mention in MSCD 5.21.

The “Templates” page of my site was already limited, even before I came up with this format. For one thing, it doesn’t include any templates using Arial. I could be convinced to add Arial 10 point single-column “articles” and “no articles” templates, as well as an Arial 8 point two-column template.

I’ve asked myself why it took so long for me to recognize that there might be a role—albeit a limited one—for a two-column version of the MSCD format, and I came up with the following reasons: First, like many corporate lawyers in private practice, I didn’t work on commercial documents but on deals, where the two-column format is a real rarity. Second, I didn’t think much of those two-column documents that I did encounter, so I threw the baby out with the bathwater. And third, it never crossed my mind to try a font size as small as Arial 8 point. A few days ago I found myself revising a client’s draft contract that used Arial 8 point in a two-column format—that’s what made me realize that using that font size was not as extreme a notion as I would have thought.

If you have any comments regarding my two-column format or my templates, I’d be pleased to hear them.

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.