Using a Table of Contents Persuasively

In South Carolina (and other jurisdictions), appellate briefs begin with a Table of Contents. The Table’s obvious purpose is to tell the reader where to find the various parts of the brief. In that vein, headings may be used in the Statement of Facts, and repeated in the Table of Contents, to give sign posts through the story or narrative.

Argument headings can do more. They may be used to achieve the greater aim of persuading the reader why you should win.

The body of briefs must contain argument headings on each particular issue addressed. Rule 208(b)(1)(D). These headings may be included in the Table of Contents and, if well written, act as an effective point-by-point summary and outline of your views. The goal is to allow the judge to skim the Table of Contents, evaluate the brief’s logic and coherence, and understand why you believe that you should win. And accomplish this before turning another page.

Often, the Table of Contents is the last part of the brief that is written.The focus at that point may be on getting the page numbers right than on whether the argument headings show that the arguments are well summarized and organized.

by Antonin Scalia and Bryan A. Garner
by Antonin Scalia and Bryan A. Garner

How can one make the Table of Contents more helpful? Ross Guberman’s book, Point Made, uses examples from top appellate advocates to say that argument headings and subheadings should be complete sentences nested within each other. In Making Your Case, Justice Scalia and Bryan Gardner agree that argument headings are most effective if they are full sentences announcing not just the topic but your position on the topic.

Guberman further notes that top advocates love to use “because” in their argument headings. With this approach, the headings not only announce the topic and conclusion — the headings also summarize why the conclusion is correct.

Which heading do you find more persuasive?

  • Standard of Review
  • The standard of review is for any evidence to support the verdict.
  • The standard of review requires a new trial because no evidence supports the verdict.

Lastly, author Ruth Anne Robbins in her article, Painting with Print, notes that brief writers may use different fonts and type point sizes for headings stated in the Table of Contents than from the headings stated in the body of the brief.  Id. at pp. 128, 133. This allows brief writers the ability to retain the traditional outline form for the Table of Contents while applying better typography in the body of the brief.

Has anyone out there encountered a well written Table of Contents? Please let us hear from you. You can reach me here.





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