Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

Editing is a skill that takes lots of practice.  Entire books have been written on editing, so I can’t teach you to be a great editor in one short blog post.  A few tips, however, can go a long way toward helping you produce documents with fewer errors.

1.    Tips that too few people follow.

Too many lawyers forget these “common sense” tips—use spell check (but don’t rely solely on it), ensure that your font size and style are consistent throughout the document, double check small words, such as “is,” “it,” and “in,” and words that have multiple spellings (e.g. guarantee and guaranty).  Review case and statute citations twice.  It is very easy to transpose reporter and page numbers and your audience (i.e. the judge) will get frustrated if she can’t find the case or statute you’ve cited.

2.     Proofread on Paper

I’ve never met anyone who can proofread well on a screen.  Readers catch more errors when they proofread on paper—I don’t know why this is true, but it is.  Print your draft double-sided if you’re concerned about conserving paper.

3.     Spell check will not catch spelling errors in ALL CAPS.

Many folks don’t realize this, but it’s a fact.  Thus, if you don’t carefully check document titles, section headers, and other parts of motions and briefs in all capitals, you’re just as likely to submit a BREIF as a BRIEF.

4.     Give yourself time, if you can.

The best writers give themselves time to put a document away for a few days so they can look at it again later with fresh eyes.  Even if you don’t have that much time, don’t start editing immediately after you finish drafting—come back an hour or two later.

5.     Read your document out load.

This tip is a particularly good way to catch awkward sentences and redundant words and phrases.  It may seem silly, but try it after you’ve already made one proofreading pass-through and see if you don’t catch additional errors.

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