Editing is the process of improving content, clarity, structure, and substance. It involves checking the content of the text to ensure that the ideas are expressed clearly and logically, and form a coherent and meaningful whole. It should be the first task you undertake after you have a fairly complete document. (Save the proofreading for later.) The purpose of editing is to make your document better. Here’s what to check:
Check for Logical Flow. Lead with the most important information, and make sure each paragraph builds on the information that came before it.
Use Headings and Subheadings. Provide a roadmap for readers and keep them moving forward. In a brief, headings and subheadings should express your argument directly.
Add White Space. White space makes documents easier to read. Headings and subheadings will break up text and create white space. So will using bullet points.
Confirm Accuracy. Inaccurate information harms your credibility; double- and triple-check your facts in a brief or agreed terms in a contract.
Check Your Support. Include pinpoint citations and verify your cases are still good law. In a contract, confirm all outside documents are current, accurate, and available.
Be Responsive. In a brief, confirm that you responded to your opponent’s arguments. In a contract, make sure you have addressed the goals and concerns of each party.
Check Your Tone. Write for your audience: Avoid an over-reaching, overly argumentative, or overly casual tone.
3. Grammar and Usage
“That” and “which.” Use “that” with restrictive clauses and “which” with nonrestrictive clauses, and set off nonrestrictive clauses with a comma.
“Shall.” Use “shall” only when you mean “has a duty to.”
“I.e.” and “e.g.” “I.e.” means “that is,” which clarifies; “e.g.” means “for example,” which adds.
Faulty Parallelism. Use parallelism only for grammatically equal sentence elements to express two or more matching ideas or items in a series.
Unclear Pronoun Reference. Pronouns should clearly refer to definite nouns.
Oxford Commas. Check for consistent use.
Sidenotes. Set off asides with commas, parentheses, or em-dashes. Treat these marks as paired punctuation that must be closed unless the phrase ends the sentence.
Independent Clauses. Separate them appropriately with a semicolon, period, or conjunction with a comma.
Superfluous, Stray, or Omitted Commas. Unnecessary commas make sentences difficult to read. Use commas only to set off a longer prepositional phrase at the beginning of a sentence; at the end of a conditional clause (usually beginning with if or when), when separating two independent clauses joined by a conjunction; before the final and in a series; for parenthetical asides; and after the year in a date (if the day is also given).
Simplify and Shorten. Replace unnecessarily complex words with simpler ones. Cut repetitive sentences and paragraphs. Tighten prose, rephrase passive voice, and remove lazy phrasing.
Eliminate Legalese. Replace legalese with standard English expressions. Avoid legal Latin.
Check for Repetition. Eliminate or replace words repeated too often, but do not vary word choice without purpose.
Powerful Parties. Confirm that your party references are easily understood throughout your document. Consider naming outside parties according to their relationship to your client, like “Defendant’s Mother.”
Try WordRake for Fast and Effective Editing
WordRake is editing software designed by writing expert and New York Times bestselling author Gary Kinder, who has taught over 1,000 writing programs to the country’s biggest law firms and businesses. WordRake goes way beyond Microsoft Word’s built-in spelling and grammar checkers. It uses complex, patented algorithms to find useless words, dull phrases, weak lead-ins, clichés, and high-level grammatical problems.
Download WordRake and watch it ripple through your document, suggesting edits in-line. Your raked document will look just like a colleague has revised your work using track changes. Then you decide which edits you like.
WordRake won’t check your citations or find the perfect case, but it will help you write clear, concise prose that partners and judges will love. Try WordRake free for seven days.
About the Author
Ivy B. Grey is the Vice President of Strategy and Business Development for WordRake. Prior to joining the team, she practiced bankruptcy law for ten years. In 2018, Ivy was recognized as a Fastcase 50 Honoree and included in the Women of Legal Tech list by the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center. Follow Ivy on Twitter @IvyBGrey or connect with her on LinkedIn.