Thursday, January 29, 2009

Big problem

"One of the biggest problems of the world is that the stupid ones are damn sure and the intelligent ones are full of doubts!"

Stupid, intelligent - these are all relative. By using these words a lot, we may become prejudiced. Or we are already prejudiced. That's why we use such words. 'Adjectives'.

Adjectives are good when used in moderation. It is better to limit their use. It's better to write in plain language than use a lot of adjectives in our jargon. Look at court documents or other official documents. They are good examples of controlled use of adjectives. They use very few, if any at all. It makes sense. Those documents are meant to be read and understood without generating more ambiguity. People complain about 'small print'. I think that is also a preconceived notion that all 'small print' is hard to read. I agree that it could be much better if they were to put that in 'large print' instead of small print. But, with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) population, I have not much confidence that people would read that either.

If you try to read such legalese documents, you find that they are not that complicated as they are made out to be. If anything, they are way too dry. Once again, they do not use adjective indiscriminately. Hence, they come across as bland.

There is an effective way to read such legalese documents. First step is to copy and paste the legal document, if you have access to soft copy, into a word processor of your choice. Say, Microsoft word. Once you have copied the content of that legal document into your own document, you can format it as you wish. Next thing to do is to format the content with liberal white spacing. Format such that there are at least 2 line spacing between each line. Increase the font size. Once you are happy with the format, print a nice copy. Do not forget to leave little more margin than normal.

Now you are ready to read the legal document which has been formatted for your reading pleasure. Get yourself a highligher and a pencil. Read one paragraph at a time. Get a quick overview of the paragraph and then read each line, one at a time. As you read, highlight important points. I said important points and not entire lines. That defeats the purpose of highlighting. After you have read one paragraph, make a note in one or two sentences which summarizes the paragraph. Continue to follow this process for rest of the document. After you have finished reading the document, you come back and start collecting notes against each paragraph. By this time you have a good picture of what you read. If not, repeat the process.

If you do not have access to soft copy, you may follow the same process with the hardcopy given to you. If you want additional space, make a photocopy in such a way that you photocopy half a page at a time. This give enough white space on each copy page for your notes.

This method does not apply only to legal documents or fine print. Sometimes scientific articles and text books are also as bland and dry as legal stuff. You can use the same method to read and comprehend them as well.

It is a shame that 'fine print' has gotten such a bad rap. Once you learn the art of reading fine print, you will surely appreciate how much good stuff is hidden in there. Reading fine print is good for your health  (sometimes  literally).


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