Revisiting Mark Anderson's Two-Column Definition Section

In this comment to a recent post on this blog, Mark Anderson—he of IP Draughts—makes the following recommendation:

Ken, in my view best practice is to put definitions in two columns [using a two-column table], with the defined word in the first column and the definition in the second column.  This makes it easier to find and read the definition.  There is also a sort function in Word that enables you to reorder the definitions if they have become out of order, which sometimes happens during negotiation if a term is changed.  Use of two columns in the definitions clause occurs frequently in English contracts, but less frequently, in my experience, in US contracts.

Today’s post on using quotation marks when creating defined terms reminded me of Mark’s approach. I think it has two shortcomings:

First, by eliminating the definitional verb, it eliminates any nexus other than means as the connection between the first column and the second column. But other definitional verbs can come in handy: refers to, means X and includes Y, and so on.

And second, it results in autonomous definitions that aren’t sentences. I like sentences!

Because I’m not used to the two-column approach, I’m not in a position to assess its potential advantages. But the sentence approach suits me fine. And in my mind, ease of sorting wouldn’t trump the disadvantages of the two-column approach.

So I’m not surprised that in connection with how you format glossaries, which are analogous to the definition section, The Chicago Manual of Style 2.28 says, “Avoid two-column format.”

But I don’t expect Mark to take this lying down!

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.