Dr. Noelle Nelson

You Need a Timeline!

Timelines are essential to just about any case. I’ve been teased by various attorneys I’ve worked with that I always recommend a timeline, and indeed it’s true.

But there is a method to my repeated “You need a timeline!” The movement of events across time is how jurors anchor testimony in their minds. It’s how they create a “story” for themselves.

And the story is the single most compelling way to get facts and information across to the jurors in a coherent, persuasive manner.

The reason a timeline works so well, is it answers the fundamental question of storytelling: “And then what happened?” It ties together apparently disparate testimony or pieces of evidence. It grounds any narrative in logic, by assigning order to the events.

Timelines need to be designed around a horizontal axis representing time, with “flags” or “boxes” pegged at the appropriate moments in time. Timelines don’t need to be fancy, but different entities should have different colored “flags,” for example, to differentiate them easily. Beyond that, a graphics designer can help give a timeline more visual impact.

The temptation is often to put too much information on a timeline: it’s a tool meant to emphasize and support, not reiterate all the testimony. Several uncluttered, easy-to-read timelines are better than one crowded with too much for the eye to readily grasp.

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