Checklist for an Office Memo - The Question Presented
As I start to grade first year closed memos, I thought a refresher checklist might be valuable to readers of this blog. I no longer remember who first provided me with this checklist but it serves the purpose well. Keeping these questions handy while writing the various sections of the memo will help improve the memo's overall quality. Today I review what makes an effective question presented.
- Have you made an appropriate choice of format?
- If you chose the "under/does/when" format did you state the rule, then the legal question and then the significant facts?
- Have you deleted any proper names?
- Is the sentence readable?
- Have you maintained an objective perspective?
Often a tension exists between making the sentence readable and including significant facts. Writers will either include too few facts making the question vague and unhelpful or go overboard by including all the facts resulting in a mammoth sentence. Finding the balance between the two takes practice and lots of editing.
Example of too few facts:
Under Arkansas common law, can a newspaper be held liable for false light invasion of privacy when an article is published where doubt remains about certain facts?
A reader unfamiliar with the case would have difficulty trying to paint the picture using this question presented. A better question presented might be:
Under Arkansas common law, is a newspaper liable for false light invasion of privacy when it publishes an article about cocaine traffickers and includes the name and photograph of a teacher arrested only for marijuana possession?
This question presented provides a much more vivid picture about the issue involved in the case. It includes the law (Arkansas common law, the legal question (false light invasion of privacy) and some key relevant facts.
Another common problem with questions occurs when the writer makes conclusions within the question. The following two examples make a conclusion regarding the malice element.
Under Arkansas common law, is a newspaper liable for false light invasion of privacy when it publishes the name of an individual it knows was arrested for misdemeanor of marijuana possession in an article about the unrelated felony arrests of suspected traffickers?
Under Arkansas law, does a teacher have a claim for false light invasion of privacy when a newspaper article regarding a cocaine trafficking bust implies the teacher's involvement when a reporter could or should have known the teacher was actually arrested for marijuana possession?
Concluding that the reporter knows or could have or should have known decides the issue of malice. Instead of conclusions the reader should include facts that may ultimately prove or disprove the malice element.