Beyond Words: Thoughts about inserting images, graphics, and other items into court documents

When inserting images, tables, maps, graphs, timelines, sound, or video into a motion or brief, consider the following:

  1. Is the insert consistent with court rules and e-filing system limitations? Be sure to keep images within required margins. Words in an inserted image may count towards your word limit if you are relying on the image to convey the substance of the text. Multimedia inserts may render your document too large to file (or not acceptable regardless of size; we have successfully filed motions with embedded sound and video clips in D. Kan., but not (yet!) in the Tenth Circuit).
  2. Does the insert explain or persuade better than words alone?
  3. Is the image or other insert being presented in an ethical, non-misleading fashion? When using exhibits, display the entire exhibit, with exhibit number, or else explain why/how the exhibit has been excerpted and direct the reader to the full exhibit in the record. When using a graphic to report data, acknowledge what data is missing and how it might affect the analysis.
  4. Does the insert contain any sealed information or personal identifiers subject to redaction? Is it part of the record (or subject to judicial notice)? Does its use otherwise comply with the rules of the court?
  5. Is the insert disturbing or offensive? Will it appear to have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass a person depicted? Before inserting graphic images, ask whether their persuasive value outweighs the risk that the reader will be offended at being exposed to them; consider using a black-and-white version to reduce the impact (but let the reader know whether/where a color version is available); let the reader know what’s coming a page in advance (“In the autopsy photos (see photos next page), it is evident that . . . .”).
  6. Has the insert been properly introduced to the reader by the text, or can it speak for itself? Is the provenance of the insert (including any data) clear?
  7. Does the insert look good on the page with the surrounding text? Learn how to use Word’s text-wrapping tool; watch for tables that split across page breaks (more on that in our next post); and make sure your graphics convert as expected into your final PDF document.
  8. Does the insert work both on the screen and in print (including in black and white)? If it doesn’t work in print, does the text explain what the paper reader is missing?
  9. Is data presented using colors that are easily distinguishable by colorblind readers?
  10. Does the data-to-ink ratio favor the data, or is the data obscured by chart junk? Consider repackaging data that, for instance, the Sentencing Commission has displayed in pie charts or other ink-heavy formats.

Next up: A few technical pointers for working with images and tables.