Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2018


Tax regulation authors habitually infuse regulations with explanatory examples. These examples are viewed favorably by both the government that encourages their drafting and the taxpayers who regularly rely on such examples to assist them in dealing with the notoriously complex tax rules. Despite the ubiquity of these examples, there is no published guidance for their drafting, their use, or their interpretation. The first original contribution of this article is the exposition and classification of the advantages and deficiencies in the current use of examples in tax regulations. This article is the first to question the rationale behind the ubiquitous use of examples in tax regulations. The article uses data collected by original surveys of expert tax professionals and government employees involved in drafting tax regulations. The second original contribution of this article is the explanation of the appeal of these examples among tax experts, and the potential hazards of the examples despite this apparent appeal. This analysis uses insights from behavioral science, and particularly from the study of cognitive biases, to explain, for example, how anchoring via an example could shift the focus of a regulatory rule and alter the boundaries of the law in inappropriate or unfair ways. Finally, relying on this analysis, the article proposes--the third original contribution--a better-informed approach to the writing of examples in tax regulations.

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