Grammar Giggles – Legal Document

A real example of how important proofreading is.  This was sent to me by a friend who caught it before the document left her office, but both she and her boss missed it in the first few rounds.  This is a mistake I make a lot.  Can you find the error?

Cap It!

Deciding whether or not to capitalize a word is sometimes confusing.  We know to capitalize proper nouns, which are the official name of a particular person, place, or thing.  Trade names, trademarks, and business names should all be capitalized as the owner of the name prefers (subject to some grammar rules – see below).  If you don’t know what they prefer, confirm it by searching for the home page on the Internet and seeing how they treat capitalization.  For example, I see this spelled wrong more frequently than it is spelled correctly:

As you can see from the office.microsoft.com website, Microsoft capitalizes both “P’s” in PowerPoint.  Thus, being lazy and only capitalizing the first one is just plain wrong!

Also remember not to expect that your reader knows what the product is that you are describing.  For instance, “The Phoenix pawn shop had 10 stolen Rolexes” is more appropriately stated “The Phoenix pawn shop had 10 stolen Rolex watches” since your reader may not know that Rolex is a watch.  If, however, the product name describes the product, it is not necessary to further describe it, as in “My daughter’s favorite Easter candy is a Cadbury Cream Egg.”

Where the trademark officially begins with a lowercase letter, it still falls under the “normal” English capitalization rules because, as the “official” name of a thing, it should be written with an initial capital letter.  For example, the official lowercase “craigslist” would be “I found my treadmill on Craigslist.”

craigslist

However, where the name begins with a pronounced lowercase separate letter followed by a capitalized letter, it should be the official name unless it starts a sentence or otherwise should be capitalized based on the normal grammar rules.  For example “EBay had the best deal on Mary’s iPod.” is correct because it starts a sentence, even though it is not the correct trademark.  It would be better reworded to “Mary got the best deal on her iPod on eBay.”

Take the time to research proper capitalization.  Companies register trade names and trademarks for a reason and it is important to be correct when using them.  It shows that you are interested in quality work product.

One Space or Two?

Your sentence ends and then what? One space or two? When I learned typing way back in the day it was always two spaces. Apparently, somewhere along the way, the experts forgot to tell me that it changed. The typewriter I used back then was monospaced type (although it WAS electric!). Even with the advent of the IBM Selectric Executive proportional type, it was still double space after the ending punctuation. Now with computer fonts that are nearly all proportional, a single space is preferred. It is a typographer rule that has been in place since the early 20th Century in Europe and in place with American typographers not long after. It is not only the typographers, but also the major style guides (including the Gregg Reference Manual), who use the one space rule.

It is important to use correct rules pursuant to your chosen style guide and to stick to those rules, but it is more important to be consistent. If your writer prefers two spaces, use two spaces and be consistent. If they don’t really care (and other than the micromanager, it really shouldn’t matter that much), use one space and be consistent with that.

Using only one space is a huge learning curve (or maybe just for me). In fact, in preparation of this post, I had to go back every single time and change the two spaces after every end punctuation to one space. It’s hard to let go of things learned over 40 years ago, but it is not impossible. I’m going to spend this week making a concerted effort to use the correct one space rule rather than two spaces. Who’s in?

Grammar Giggles – The Biebs

I was originally interested in this Justin Bieber story days ago just because I was actually there (and didn’t realize that’s what was happening).  But today’s headline teaser … again … caught my attention for a different reason.  Seriously local Fox News.  “Loosing his lunch”?  As opposed to “tighting his lunch”?  Losing and Loosing are different — learn it!

You can quote me

Quotation marks and apostrophes are important, but when proofreading, make sure the STYLE of the apostrophe and quotation marks are the same throughout the document.  Either curly or straight marks are fine depending on personal preference and, of course, consistency.  Choose a style and stick with it.  There is a way to set your preferred style of mark in Word so that as you type, that style is used.  However, when you (or the author) cuts and pastes something from another document, it may not adopt the style of your document.  It is a very small thing that can make a huge difference.  Global search and replace for quotation marks and then for apostrophes will fix the consistency issue easily.

Speaking of quotations, one thing you should always try to do is to check the language of the quotation to make sure that what is quoted is exact.  Attorneys who draft their own documents and type information from another document sometimes miss a word, miss a line, or otherwise unintentionally “adjust” a quotation.  When something is quoted, you are saying to your reader that you have taken the exact language from somewhere else and are inserting that exact language into your document.  It is extremely important that language that is quoted is right.  If your reader (and heaven forbid it is a judge) figures out it is not an exact quote, you will lose credibility.  Even worse, if an important quote is not exact, the other side will have a heyday with that and your attorney could lose the entire argument over it.  Find the original document and confirm the quotation.  If you can’t access the original document on your own computer system, don’t be shy about asking the author for the document.  It is THAT important.

If a short quotation is included, it can be set off by quotation marks within the paragraph.  If, however, the quotation is more than about four lines of text, it should be offset in a separate paragraph that is indented on both sides.  If the quotation is indented, do not use quotation marks.  The reader should understand that the indented language is quoted so quotation marks are unnecessary.

Quotations are a big part of legal matters and it is really important that they are correct.  You can quote me on that!

Commas: Serial and transitional and interrupting, oh my!

Commas seem to be a real issue.  Apparently, at some point in elementary or junior high school, teachers mentioned using commas before the word “and.”  It appears to me that the students who grew up to be lawyers took that very literally and every time their sentence has and, they want to put a comma.  “She went swimming, and splashed.”  Commas are not easy and, again, I don’t claim to know all the rules regarding commas.  I read the sentence to myself, taking out nonessential and interrupting phrases, to make sure the sentence still makes sense.  Other than that, I try not to use too many commas as I think they are really overused.  Here are some examples:
Nonessential expressions – commas set off words that are not essential to the meaning of the sentence.  “Brian Smith, the IT manager, was able to fix the computer.”  When you name a specific person, you don’t need descriptive information to understand the sentence.  One way to determine if the expression is nonessential is whether your voice rises or falls on that part of the sentence when you read it.  If your voice drops, it is nonessential and should be set off by commas.  “We decided, nevertheless, to make plans to go to Spain.”  If you voice rises, it is essential to the sentence and should not be set off.  “We nevertheless decided to make plans to go to Spain.”  If, however, you mean only that you decided to make plans to go to Spain without any outside limitations in the rest of your paragraph, the nevertheless should be set off by commas.
Interrupting elements – commas set off words that break the flow of the sentence.  “He worked a long day, one of many lately, and left the office exhausted.”
Transitional expressions – commas set off expressions that transition the sentence, such as howeverthereforeon the other hand.  “On the other hand, Karen loves sushi as much as I do.”
Afterthoughts – use commas to set off unrelated afterthoughts at the end of a sentence.  “He was late to work again that morning, if I remember correctly.”
Serial commas – when a series of three or more items and the last item is preceded by andor, or nor, a comma goes before the conjunction along with between other items.  “She ate steak, baked potato, steamed broccoli, and salad for dinner last night.” People will argue forever with me on this one.  It is standard practice for some newspapers and magazines to leave the last comma out.  It can really lead to confusion, particularly in the legal field.  Using only two commas in a series could theoretically end up hurting someone.  Consider this example:
John left his estate to Jack, Jill and Joe.  When taken literally, the estate would be divided into two parts – half to Jack and half to Jill and Joe to share.  If John had left his estate to Jack, Jill, and Joe, it is clear that the estate goes to three people.  Our business is extremely literal, so serial commas are important.  I will share a funny (although a tiny bit risque) picture going around Facebook recently on this very topic for the Grammar Giggle this week.
We will share more about commas and move on to semicolons and colons in later issues of this blog.  I have to do much more research to blog intelligently about those topics — there, I admitted it!  We will all learn through this process and for that I thank you.  It is important to constantly learn and I hope to share something worth learning each week.

Quick Tip – Essential Check for Nonessential Phrases

A quick tip for this week.  A fairly common error easily caught by good proofreading is where the same word appears both before and after a nonessential phrase.  For example, “We must be sure that, without fail, that we get the timesheets posted by the end of the month.”  One thing that I try to do while proofreading is to take out the nonessential phrase to make sure the sentence still makes sense.  In the above example “We must be sure that that we get the timesheets posted by the end of the month.”  When you check the sentence that way, you will see the second “that.” Reading the sentence without the nonessential phrase will also help to make sure that the phrase being treated as nonessential by being set off by commas actually IS nonessential because the sentence will still make sense without that phrase.  When sentences get long (as lawyers sometimes tend to make them), it is even more important to check for the same word on both sides of a nonessential phrase.  This simple check will help the sentence make sense and help prove that your proofreading skills make everyone look good.