Writing Wrongs: Tips for Effective Proofing
Legal writing remains one of the places where excellent grammar is required, and good proofing skills are a necessity
The comma police are giving up the battle. Grammar gaffes in workplace communication have reached epidemic proportions. Who is to blame? Is it the 140-character world of Twitter, or maybe 18.7 billion text messages sent daily? IDK. Blame it on the Millennials. JK. Really, JK!
Most industries will tell you they take their guidance from the consumer. It’s important for them to communicate in ways that will be understood. It’s a valid thought process, but it might not hold up in court. Legal writing remains one of the places where excellent grammar is required, and good proofing skills are a necessity. Here’s why, along with some proofing tips:
The confusion of a comma
A misplaced or missing comma has been instrumental in deciding many court decisions throughout history. One of the most notable and recent involved Maine truck drivers and overtime pay. The irony was that no one argued about whether the overtime pay should be paid. Instead, the case hinged on a missing comma that made it unclear whether a state law covered paying the drivers for distribution or excluded it.
The case made it all the way up to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which found in favor of the truck drivers. It was the court’s opinion that the absence of the comma created enough uncertainty to rule in favor of the drivers.
Poor writing does more than reflect negatively on legal professionals. It weakens cases and it wastes the time of everyone connected to the court systems. Writing for clarity isn’t difficult. Use these tips to catch your wrong writing.
- Pause and refresh. Set what you’ve written aside for a few hours. Proofreading at a later time helps you read what you actually wrote, rather than remember what you intended to write.
- Read it backward. Huh? See the tip above. We often miss errors because the writing is still fresh in our mind and we’re remembering what we thought we wrote rather than seeing what we actually wrote. By working your way through what you’ve written in reverse order, you require your brain to see what’s really there instead of what you meant to write.
- Look for one type of problem at a time. It might take more time, but you’ll end up catching more errors. Start with spelling, and then move on to punctuation. Consider your sentence structures next, followed by word choice.
- Proof a hard copy. But the trees! Not to worry, paper is recyclable. Printing out what you’ve written—especially in a different font—can help you catch errors that are hiding in plain sight on your screen.
- Turn on the spellchecker when you’re writing. This software has become far more sophisticated. It’ll catch, for instance, reversed letters and repeated words. They’re not spelled incorrectly, but they are used inappropriately.
- Don’t take the spellchecker’s word for it. This software tells you if a word is spelled correctly, but not necessarily whether it’s the correct word. Again, the software is getting pretty good at looking at word usage in context. It’s not wise to rely solely on your spellcheck software, though.
- Read it aloud. We speak to be understood, and most of us do a good job of it. Strive to write how you speak, and you will be better understood. Read your text aloud. It may be easier to hear word usage errors than see them.
Take the time to be assured that what you’ve written is clear and concise. You can only do this by proofreading it. Or, by letting someone else do that for you.
Writing riddled with citation errors, bad grammar, and confusing typos can and will get thrown out of court when a judge decides that causes confusion or uncertainty. The purpose of this writing, after all, is to help everyone agree on something, and in some cases, beyond a reasonable doubt.
Boss Certified Real-Time Reporting provides court reporting services for everything from trials and mediations, to dispositions and conferences. We’re accurate, fast, and in your corner. For more information call us at 954-467-6867, or connect with us online today!