And starting a sentence with a conjunction might be OK.

Back when I was learning grammar and diagramming sentences, using a coordinating conjunction such as and or but to start a sentence was against all rules. Now I find out that it was probably against the rules because it was an easy way for our English teachers to make sure we didn’t have sentence fragments. The use of a conjunction to start a sentence is a good way to draw special attention to that sentence. However, it is very informal and conversational. Because of that, it won’t work in a legal brief or other “formal” writing. If you want to use a coordinating conjunction to start a sentence, make sure you are using it for emphasis and be very careful it is not just a sentence fragment. Here are some examples:

Groucho Marx wrote in his thank you note: “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it.”

Tell her to return my voicemail message. Or else.

These are both very good examples of starting sentences with coordinating conjunctions for emphasis.

Tell him to come to my office. And read the report.

This is a fragment. The sentence starting with the coordinating conjunction doesn’t make sense and doesn’t need special emphasis. It is more of an afterthought.

The danger of  starting sentences with coordinating conjunctions is that doing it too much quickly loses its effectiveness. I still don’t like it and change it in most documents I proofread. Whether the attorney author accepts my changes is quite another thing, but at least I’ve made my point.

So the basic rule is to use coordinating conjunctions at the beginning of a sentence sparingly for emphasis but not in a formal writing.  And not when I’m proofing your work.

Font Size Does Matter

At the NALS Annual Education Conference and National Forum I attended in Portland this past week, I learned an unbelievable amount of information, including a name for something I see a lot — a Frankenbrief.  A Frankenbrief is a brief that has had many people working on parts of it and then it is all put together into one document.  There are many problems with a Frankenbrief, including the flow of the document from so many different styles of writing by different authors, consistency with defined words and capitalization, justification issues, and different font sizes. When working on a Frankenbrief, you should automatically check the big things like the defined terms and consistency issues, but it is also important to check the little things, including justification or non-justification (being consistent with author preference although I personally think it is easier to read non-justified text) for each separate paragraph and font size.  There may be just a slight difference between 12 point and 13 point font, but someone who looks at a lot of typed documents (like a judge or a law clerk) can tell when there are different font sizes.  If you get a judge who is a real stickler who might find some 12 point font mixed in with the 13 point font required by the Court rules, the possibility does exist that he or she would not accept your document as deficient because of the font size.  It is just one more thing that makes a difference and shows the reader that you are paying attention to the details that will make their task of reading your document just a little bit easier.

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 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.”


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!