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For a better contract, add some emojis

November 21, 2017

Recent years have seen growing interest in approaches to contract design and expression. There are many factors behind this, among them the increased use of contracts and also their greater length and complexity. As vehicles of communication, most contracts are dire, with average reading levels that put them out of the range of mere humans.

Initiatives have ranged from the use of ‘plain language’, to the development of style guides and, more recently, the introduction of graphics and pictures that increase the ability of users to understand and perform contracts. But how much does all of this really matter?

It seems obvious to many people that contracts contain important information and these include rights and responsibilities related to performance. On that basis alone, it appears both reasonable and expedient to make agreements easy to understand. Recent research goes further by suggesting that the nature of the language used in a contract has a material impact on the behavior of those receiving it. Excessive ‘legalese’, for example, is perceived as threatening and is therefore demotivating – hardly a desirable result when the purpose is to encourage performance.

But now, research undertaken at Binghampton University in New York has revealed even more extensive possibilities for future contracts – the use of ‘text talk’, such as emojis, exclamation marks and abbreviations. ‘Textisms’ apparently bring a value typically missing from written documents – they convey the nuanced meaning typically achieved only in spoken conversations, thereby reducing the chance of misunderstanding or adverse reactions when there was no bad intent.

Contracts today frequently generate negative or hostile reactions. That is really the last thing we should be doing when we are embarking on a joint project or trying to generate shared benefit. So perhaps we need a new style guide for contract drafting that brings us into the 21st century and reflects modern methods of communication. It isn’t just that emojis and ‘text talk’ would make contracts more accessible; it would also (according to the research) increase our chances of a successful and harmonious outcome. And that, surely, is what we are all trying to achieve?



One Comment
  1. This is brilliant. Thank you, and I can see heads exploding throughout the legal community. I plan to refer to it in my blog.

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