Because presenting our work in a clear and pleasing manner is so important, effective legal writers devote 35% of their time in any legal writing task to revising, editing, proofreading, and otherwise polishing the document.
According to the Law Practice Doctor: “When mistakes and typos are visible in your work, the assumption will be that you do not pay attention to detail. This is quickly followed with concern that other mistakes might be present. Mistakes that carry more weight and consequence than poor grammar, like incorrect citations.” This is why proofreading is important.
Proofreading involves checking over your text in fine detail. It is the process of reviewing a completed written document for inconsistencies; spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors; formatting mistakes; and typos. It’s the last task you should perform.
Here’s what to check:
Numbers and Names.Search for all numbers, particularly dates, proper names, and any numbers following $, §, or ¶ symbols. Make sure your numbers add up in tables and pie charts. First, ask yourself if a name, a date, or a number is important; if it isn’t, you can delete it.
Confirm Footnotes and Cross-References. All footnotes and cross-references must point to the right information and have consistent formatting.
2. Defined Terms
Abbreviations, Acronyms, and Defined Terms. Check for undefined abbreviations or ones used before being defined. Use only abbreviations and acronyms commonly used to describe the entity: IBM, EPA, IRS. Otherwise, consider finding a way to identify the entity without using an abbreviation. Far East Enterprises can become Far East without defining it.
Capitalization. Confirm consistent capitalization of defined terms.
Hyphenation. Check for consistent hyphenation according to internal usage and house style rules; follow preferences from Black’s Law Dictionary and The Redbook.
Paired Punctuation. Look for unclosed quotes and parentheses.
Consistent Punctuation. Check for consistent use of the Oxford (serial) comma and punctuation after bullets; remove extra spaces. Be consistent with the number of spaces you use following a period at the end of a sentence.
Homonyms and Confused Words. Address misused homonyms and check commonly confused words. Keep a list of homonyms, like their, there, and they’re, or to, too, and two. WordRake can help you find the right word in commonly confused word pairs, like hone/home, less/fewer, and anxious/eager.
Synonyms, Spelling Variations, and Similar Words. Check for consistent use of a single similar word or variation, including near synonyms, such as “lawyer” and “attorney,” “contract” and “agreement.” Correct misspellings in terms of art; and correct misuse of properly spelled words, such as “statue” for “statute.”
5. Style Guidance
Italicization. Check for proper use of italics according to Black’s Law Dictionary, The Bluebook, and The Redbook.
Formatting. Enforce formatting and style rules from The Bluebook; The Redbook; and Black’s Law Dictionary. Headings, bullets, defined terms, indents, and footnotes should all be consistent.
Improve Your Work with WordRake
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 top businesses. WordRake goes 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. Along with WordRake, we like to use PerfectIt with American Legal Style to proofread for legal-specific typos, capitalization inconsistencies, and errors in Bluebook citations.
Try WordRake today and watch it ripple through your writing, suggesting edits in-line. Your raked document will look just like a colleague revised your work using track changes. It’s 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 2020, Ivy was recognized as an Influential Woman in Legal Tech by ILTA. She has also been 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.