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Illustrative Forms of Class Action Notices: Overview of Methodology

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We began this project by studying empirical research and commentary on the plain language drafting of legal documents. We then tested several notices from recently closed class actions by presenting them to nonlawyers, asking them to point out any unclear terms, and testing their comprehension of various subjects. Through this process, we identified areas where reader comprehension was low. We found, for example, that nonlawyers were often confused at the outset by use of the terms "class" and "class action." Combining information from the pilot test with principles gleaned from psycholinguistic research, we drafted preliminary illustrative class action notices and forms. We then asked a lawyer-linguist to evaluate them for readability and redrafted the notices in light of his suggestions.

We then tested the redrafted securities and products liability notices before focus groups composed of ordinary citizens from diverse backgrounds. This testing explored recipients' willingness to open and read a notice as well as their ability to comprehend and apply the information contained in a notice. 

We tested the effectiveness of the redrafted securities notice by conducting a survey comparing the Center's redrafted illustrative plain language notice with the best comparable notice we could find from closed securities class action cases. Using objective comprehension measures, we found that participants who received the Center's plain language notice exhibited significantly higher comprehension than participants who received the comparison notice.

In August 2001, we posted to the FJC Website the yet-again redrafted securities and products liability notices and requested public comments. We subsequently revised the notices' design and wording, incorporating comments and suggestions received and using the assistance of additional experts. In November 2003 we added the employment notices.

For more detailed information on the methodology involved in our research and drafting prior to the 2001 posting, see Detailed Discussion of Methodology.