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.

3 thoughts on “Revisiting Mark Anderson's Two-Column Definition Section”

  1. Sentences overrated?

    So readers can see (and criticise!) an “English” style of definitions, I have found an example on the SEC Edgar database, here:

    I wasn’t involved in this transaction, but (by coincidence) some of the wording appears to be based on one my published templates, including the layout of the definitions.  This was the first example I found.  On reflection, it might have been better to find another example, so that readers can be reassured that use of two columns is not just a personal aberration and is commonly encountered in UK contracts.

    You will also see that there are no quotation marks around the defined terms, but they are (I think) in bold text in this example.

    I think layout is a matter of personal preference and what you are used to.  I prefer a clean layout where I can find information easily, and I think this objective is enhanced by use of columns (and by some of the other formatting techniques used in the document).  As for the missing “means” wording, this appears in the sentence that introduces the definitions.

  2. Ken:

    I think the sorting issue is a non-issue. Microsoft Word can sort paragraphs. If you have a long definitional section and use auto-numbering or no numbering, you can use the sorting feature directly on the text without using a table.

    I agree with Mark that this type of format is common in English contracts (and, in my limited experience, those from Australia, Singapore, and Hong Kong). If I were to use long definitional sections, my biggest gripe with that approach is that the defintiional section appears at the beginning of the contract, where the most important business substace ought to appear instead.


  3. Having a table format doesn’t necessarily mean that you lose the definitional verb. We sometimes use tables to format definitions with the defined term being in the left column and with the definition in the right column starting “means …”. It helps that we don’t use border lines (which hardly ever look good anyway).

    Of course, the same effect can often be achieved with the paragraphing settings and tabs, but the advantage of a table over that is simply that you avoid the problem where the defined term is long enough to run into the definition over on the right hand side.

    I’m not wedded to tables at all, and don’t always use them, but they can be useful.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.