Sunday, November 18, 2012

Writing Tip of the Week: Proofreading Strategies

When you have finished revising and editing your work, spend some time proofreading.  Remember that proofreading is not the same as editing—you should not try to do both at the same time.  When you edit, you are revising for style and clarity. When you proofread, you are looking for mistakes, such as missing words, typographical errors, and incorrect punctuation.  Consider these proofreading strategies: 

·    Give yourself a break between editing and proofreading.  Ideally, you should put your paper away for a day before proofreading it, but even 30 minutes can help.

·    Do something different.  For instance, proofread your paper in a different order from the order in which you have been revising it.  If you usually work on the first section first, proofread the last section first. Try reading your paper backwards, line for line, from the back to the front.  Read it aloud, or try covering everything but the line you are reading with a ruler or paper.  If you are a fast reader, slow down.

·    Personalize your proofreading.  Think about the types of errors you tend to make, such as errors in grammar and punctuation or transpositions of certain words.  Then read your paper looking only for these types of mistakes. 

·    Print out a hard copy.  Looking at the hard copy is different from looking at your computer screen, and you may be able to see mistakes more easily on paper. You should always print out a final document, even if you are submitting it electronically.

·    Use Spellchecker and similar computer tools, but do not rely on them.  Spellchecker will not catch missing words, homonyms such as “hear” for “here,” transpositions such as “statue” for “statute,” or misspellings in capitals-only text such as point headings.   

For more information, see Anne Enquist & Laurel Currie Oates, Just Writing 20-22 (3d ed. 2009) and Laurel Currie Oates & Anne Enquist, The Legal Writing Handbook 183-84, 221, 471-72 (5th ed. 2010).

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Writing Tip of the Week: Use the Correct Tense


Knowing which verb tense to use when discussing the law, precedent cases, or client facts can be confusing at first. But as in other writing, use the present tense to describe facts or rules that exist now and the past tense for facts or events that have already happened. 

Use the present tense to discuss the rule of law.

·    A significant change in employment status constitutes an adverse employment action under Title VII. (rule of law exists in the present)

Use the past tense to discuss the facts of a precedent case and the court’s holding or reasoning.

·    In Sanchez, the school district transferred a teacher from one school to another, but her title, salary, benefits, duties, and responsibilities remained the same.  (the transfer occurred in the past)

·    The court held that her transfer did not constitute an adverse employment action.  (court decided case in the past)

·    The court reasoned that because she had the same job title, salary, benefits, duties, and responsibilities, her transfer was a mere lateral transfer rather than an adverse employment action.  (court reasoned in the past)

Use the past tense for client facts that have already happened, but use the present tense for client facts that exist in the present.

·    Mr. Smith worked in the branch office, where he represented adult clients in high-profile criminal cases. (Ms. Smith did these things in the past)

·    The company’s client list contains names, addresses, and phone numbers for all corporate clients. (list exists in the present)

For more information, see Anne Enquist & Laurel Currie Oates, Just Writing 178-82 (3d ed. 2009) and Laurel Currie Oates & Anne Enquist, The Legal Writing Handbook 620-23 (5th ed. 2010).

Monday, November 5, 2012

Writing Tip of the Week: Capitalizing "Court"

Rules B7.3.1 and 8 of the Bluebook explain when practitioners should capitalize the word “court” in court documents and legal memoranda.  Under these rules, capitalize “court” in the following three situations: 
1.  When “naming any court in full.” 
  • The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit addressed this question in Gove v. Robinson. 
2.     When “referring to the [United States] Supreme Court.” 
  • Justice Scalia wrote the dissenting opinion for the Court.  
3.     When “referring to the court that will be receiving that document.” 
  • This Court should deny the Motion for Summary Judgment. 
Otherwise, do not capitalize “court.” 
  • The Smith court considered whether a swimming pool was an attractive nuisance. 
  • The court in Wilson found the physician liable for failing to warn the victims about his patient’s threats against them.
The Bluebook:  A Uniform System of Citation R. B7.3.1, at 22, R. 8, at 84 (Columbia Law Review Ass’n et al. eds., 19th ed. 2010); see also Lawmanac—Clickable Help for Legal Writers, “Punctuation, Capitalization, & Typeface” (follow “Capitalization” hyperlink; then follow “Words in Text” hyperlink; then follow “Court” hyperlink) (C. Edward Good ed., 2009).