Why I Don’t Use a Table Format for the Definition Section

This is what my definition sections look like:

But you could instead opt to present the definition section using a table format:

Using a table format is, as far as I can tell, particularly popular in England and other Commonwealth jurisdictions. The two primary characteristics of using a table format are (1) a break between the defined term and the rest of the definition and (2) absence of a definitional verb.

Here’s why I don’t use a table format:

  • Separating the defined term from the definition section gives the reader more work to do, in that they have to bridge the space.
  • Omitting the definitional verb gives the reader more work to do, in that they have to fill the semantic gap.
  • It’s not as if the only definitional verb is means. If the part of speech of the defined term doesn’t match that of the definition, I recommend you use refers to. And occasionally a structure like means X and includes Y is helpful. You lose all that if you omit the definitional verb.
  • I routinely use definitions with tabulated enumerated clauses (as in the first example above). That would be a pain to include in a table format.

Generally, using a table format is consistent with the let’s-break-text-up zeal of many Commonwealth drafters—it’s too much of a good thing, so ultimately I find it counterproductive.

That said, it’s nothing I get worked up about.

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.