Student lawyer, Ellen Onione, rewrote her opening paragraph based on feedback from her supervising lawyer.

Her supervising lawyer now suggests adding headings to make the letter more readable.

Listen to what Ellen’s supervising lawyer has to say about headings

Ellen's letter explains 3 points:

  1. the grounds for evicting a tenant because of pets
  2. the process landlords must follow
  3. the Clinic lawyer’s recommendation

Drag the 3 headings you think will be most effective into the designated heading rows for Ellen to see

The Residential Tenancies Act’s Procedural Safeguards Prevent Unnecessary Evictions
Can The Landlord Evict You Because of Your Dog?
The Landlord Cannot Evict You Without A Written Notice
“No Pet” Clauses are Void
A Tenant With Pets Cannot be Evicted Unless the Pet Is A Nuisance or Causes Allergies
The Clinic’s Recommended Next Steps
Application of the Residential Tenancies Act to Your Facts
Conclusion
The Landlord Can Evict You If Bingo Is A Nuisance
The Landlord Must Give Written Notice with Reasons Before Evicting You
First Heading:
Second Heading:
Third Heading:
Ineffective Headings Most Effective Headings for Ellen

The Residential Tenancies Act’s Procedural Safeguards Prevent Unnecessary Evictions

This heading emphasizes the policy reason for the Residential Tenancies Act’s procedures. It would be a good heading for a policy-based discussion.

First Heading:

The Landlord Must Give Written Notice with Reasons Before Evicting You

Good Choice.The client will know that the landlord must take an important step before she can be evicted. The heading tells the client the content of the upcoming section.

Can The Landlord Evict You Because of Your Dog?

Readers look to headings for guidance. Headings that ask questions announce the topic, but do not help the reader know or remember your answer. You want a heading that makes the message – not the question – stick in you reader’s mind. You can use question headings where you raise a general topic, or where there is no clear answer. Question headings can sound academic or tentative in a letter to a client.

Second Heading:

The Landlord Can Evict You If Bingo Is A Nuisance

This Heading Serves the Purpose.Now the client knows the legal issue you discuss in this section. The heading will also prompt the client to tell you if there are any additional facts that affect your advice.

The Landlord Cannot Evict You Without A Written Notice

Better, but not the best. As a general principle, readers have difficulty processing negative words and expressions. Readers instinctively translate negative statements into positive ones to better understand the point. As much as possible, avoid using negatives in a heading. Here we have two negative words, “cannot” and “without”, which are guaranteed to slow the reader down. Try to express the ideas in a positive way.

Third Heading:

The Clinic’s Recommended Next Steps

This Heading Works Well. An anxious client will see right away what part of the letter she should read to know what you recommend she does next. Some clients will go to this section immediately, and then read the rest of the letter. Good headings make it easier for readers to find what they want to know.

“No Pet” Clauses are Void

This might be a good sub-heading in a legal memo discussing several aspects of a tenant’s rights. Let’s look at the word choice. Will this client easily understand the word “void”? What can replace “void”? Consider some alternatives. Here a negative word is probably necessary; perhaps "not binding", "meaniingless", or "unenforceable" would be clearer to this client?

A Tenant With Pets Cannot be Evicted Unless the Pet Is A Nuisance or Causes Allergies

This heading presents two problems. First it uses negative words, “cannot” and “unless”. As a general principle, readers have difficulty processing negative words and expressions. Readers instinctively translate negative statements into positive ones to better understand the point. As much as possible, in heading, express the ideas in a positive way.

Also, the heading introduces the idea that a tenant can be evicted if the pet causes an allergic reaction. Ellen learned about pets and allergies in her research. However, this point is not relevant to this client’s situation. The heading will likely confuse the client.

Application of the Residential Tenancies Act to Your Facts

This is a structural heading. All it does is tell the client what you, as the writer, plan to do in this section. A descriptive heading tells the client the content of the section.

Conclusion

“Conclusion” is a rather standard, structural heading. You can do better.