Because today is Mardi Gras, National Pancake Day, primary election day in Texas, and the date that Sam Houston was named commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the newly independent Republic of Texas, you may not realize that it is also National Grammar Day. But just like last year, I'm here for you.
I'd love to say I've never filed a brief with a typo, but I know that's not true. In fact, I hate reading my briefs after they're filed, because I know I'll find something that I should have caught on the final proofread. But there are a few proofreading techniques that can minimize the chances of missing some glaring error.
Here are some that I use:
- Know your own tendencies and check for them. For example, I know that I frequently type "plaintiff's" when I mean "plaintiffs." So, I use the search function to look at all instances of "plaintiff's" or "plaintiffs'" to be sure that I really want it to be possessive, rather than plural.
- Have a good reference book handy, just in case. I like "Garner's Modern American Usage."
- Actually use the spell-checker in Word. It is easy to think that you have looked at all of the words that Word has underlined in red and that you know that they are not really misspellings. But running through the spell-check will usually find at least one word that is misspelled.
- But don't rely exclusively on the spell-checker. You don't want to file a brief that uses "tortuous" instead of "tortious," "arbitral" instead of "arbitrable," "of coarse" instead of "of course," or worse.
- Read it out loud. It is amazing what you find when you actually have to read the word out loud instead of just assuming you know what it is.
- Proofread the document backward, starting at the last sentence. Some mistakes are easier to find when they are viewed out of context from the rest of the brief.
- Find someone else to proofread it, preferably someone who has not read it before. By the time I'm ready to file a brief, I know it so well that I see what I think is on the page, instead of what is actually there. A second set of eyes can catch things that I miss.
What proofreading techniques do you use? In celebration of grammar day, let's get a good list going in the comments.
-- Rich Phillips, Thompson & Knight