Grammar Giggle – Lawyer Or Criminal?

I found this yesterday on Twitter. It reminded me of the “check to see if you any words out” meme, but this is actually worse and one of the hardest parts of proofreading. You know what it is SUPPOSED to say. Just be careful you’re not reading words into your work that you know should be there . . . but aren’t.

Email Is Correspondence Too!

16117895_sEmail is not just a method of communicating with others over the computer. It is a reflection of you and your firm when you are using your company equipment to send emails to others—whether regarding work subjects or not. Email is just the same as sending a letter or any other type of communication. You need to make sure your message is clear and error free.

Keep these things in mind:

  • Never EVER use text-speak in business emails. Take the time to spell words out. People who don’t text much or who insist on grammatically correct texts will have trouble reading the email when it contains those kinds of abbreviations. Take the time to turn “R U ready for me to snd the ltr?” to “Are you ready for me to send the letter?”
  • Email was once considered a very informal way of communicating. Things are very different now. Think about how many times a day you use email to communicate with attorneys in your own office, clients, opposing counsel, and other professionals. Email has really become a primary business correspondence and, thus, is formal communication. Treat it that way.
  • When you are using email to forward some kind of document, you need to make sure both the email and the attachment are proofread and are an accurate reflection of you and your firm and the quality of your work. I personally love that our Outlook Office Professional Plus 2013 is picking up when it looks like you intended to attach something but haven’t attached it before you hit send. But even if you don’t have that version of Outlook, before hitting send, check your email for accuracy—that it is going to the correct person (don’t trust your email program’s autofill) and that your attachment is correct AND attached.
  • When you are sending an email—particularly one going outside the firm—don’t trust the “send” spellcheck. You know which one I mean. You press send, it tells you words it thinks are spelled wrong, fixes them the way you tell it to, and sends it off into cyberspace. Were words that were spelled correctly still the wrong word? It is entirely possible. If you type “The client doe snot have any comment to your revisions,” it is all spelled correctly, but is it what you really meant? Take the time to read your emails and actually proof the email before you press send.
  • When you are using your firm’s email mail system and the email address reflects the firm/company name, you are the company. To the reader of the email, you are representing your firm.
  • When you are using your firm’s equipment or software to send email, the mail belongs to the firm. They have the right to set up templates or give direction for how they want emails to look and what they want them to contain. Find out if your firm has those standards set out somewhere.
  • Each email outside the firm should have a signature block just like every letter would. And just like every business correspondence, if you are not a lawyer, make sure your signature block contains your title. Otherwise, the reader may automatically assume you are a lawyer and are giving them legal advice.
  • Be careful when responding to email and choosing “reply all.” Does everyone listed on the email really need the information? In today’s law firms, people can easily get over 200 emails a day, so any that they don’t have to have will put one less email in their box. However, don’t assume people don’t need to be included. If the subject has changed or someone has indicated they can be dropped from the email chain, that is one thing, but be careful making the assumption that people don’t want to be included. When in doubt, include everyone in the original group.
  • Make sure the subject line of your email is accurate. Even if you are responding to an email chain, if the subject has changed, change the subject line. It not only makes it easier for the reader to sort information they really need to deal with at any particular time, but it makes it easier to search later.
  • You never know who will read your email. Forwarding emails is far too easy to rely on the idea that only the addressee will ever read your email. Will it end up as a trial exhibit? Will your addressee forward it to someone you may not even know? Will it end up in your personnel file? Will the addressee post your email on the Internet for anyone to see? In the end, always be professional, always be accurate, and always be nice. The last thing you should think before you hit send is “Do I want your mom to read this?”

Who knew email was so complicated? It really isn’t complicated, it is just good common sense. And it is good business sense to make sure your email represents you and your firm in the best way possible.

Grammar Giggle – Hey Batter, Batter . . . I’ve Got a Little Something For You!

This was sent to me by a reader last season. This is something that spell check might not catch. Don’t just rely on spell check! Obviously, newspaper editors don’t pay enough attention as headlines seem to be a constant source of Grammar Giggles!


PS: I Don’t Need to Use a Postscript

I got this question from a reader:

My boss used a lot–and I mean a lot–of postscript messages in his letters. They range from one paragraph to 4 or 5. These paragraphs are lengthy. What are your thoughts on the use of postscript in a business / legal correspondence?

My initial thought is that in today’s electronic world, postscripts (or a PS at the end of a letter) are completely unnecessary because if it is an important part of a letter, it should be included in the body of the letter. I understand the need for a postscript in a handwritten multi-page letter where you might have forgotten something, so that you could add it at the end without redoing the entire letter, but not in a computer generated business letter. But what do the experts say?

The Gregg Reference Manual says that effective use of a postscript will emphasize an idea that was deliberately left out of the body of the letter and will bring special attention to it. On the other hand, your reader may feel that your letter is poorly organized. Think about whether that is a chance you want to take.

To me, I visualize the use of postscripts as a list on a piece of paper and then one Post-it note with an addition to the list, and then another Post-it note, and another until the list is obliterated by Post-it notes with extra information.

If you’re going to use a “PS” for a particular purpose, leave a blank line between the copy notation and the PS and include a colon and one or two spaces after the “PS.” By the way, it is not “P.S.” (with periods) anymore since “postscript” is now spelled as one word.

Do you have a nagging question that you would like answered? Leave it in the comments below or send an email to [email protected] and I will do my best to answer your question.

Grammar Giggles – Office Sign

This sign was sent to me by a faithful blog reader. She saw this sign in an office where she works. There are so many issues in these few lines. First, I’m not sure why it goes from regular first letter cap in the first word to all caps for the rest of the entire message. Next, the word “copy” is misspelled. Then, for some reason, the abbreviations for identification and driver’s license only have one period instead of two. Finally, the word “control” should be “controlled.” Personally, I think this person’s ability to make any more signs should be “controlled.”

Grammar Giggle – First Annuel

It makes me proud when my kids or grandkids send me Grammar Giggles! This one came from my daughter from a wrestling tournament she attended for my grandson. I also thought it appropriate since I get to watch my grandson wrestle in another tournament tomorrow! I’ll have to be on the lookout for other Grammar Giggle material!

First Annuel

Grammar Giggle – Dr. DDS

This caught my eye recently in a GUM dental products commercial. If you are going to refer to someone by their title, i.e., John Smith, DDS, you do not include “Dr.” at the front, so the reference to this dentist is incorrect. The same rule applies to the title Esq. If you say John Smith, Esq., you do not add “Attorney” to make it Attorney John Smith, Esq. Choose one or the other, but do not use both.

Here a Footnote, There an Endnote, Everywhere a Textnote

There are three basic kinds of notes used in writing. First, the footnote, which appears at the bottom of the same page as the referring number. Second, the endnote, which appears at the end of the document with all other references in the document. And third, the textnote, which appears in the text surrounded by parenthesis.

While researching for this topic, I found it interesting that there is not a lot of material out there on footnotes in legal documents. I assume this is because the use of footnotes is discouraged and because Bryan Garner disapproves. The argument against footnotes (for other than citations to cases) is a good one. Readers will assume that the information they need is contained in the main body of the document and that a footnote is ancillary or extraneous material adding “fluff,” if you will, to the main thought. Also, there is a very real possibility that it is confusing and potentially irritating to your reader to keep bobbing their head up and down as they’re reading to go from the heart of the document to the bottom of the page. Not to mention it breaks the train of thought associated with reading your brilliant work.

Truth is, however, attorneys use footnotes, so there should be a standard way of preparing them. Unfortunately, there is not. The Gregg Reference Manual uses a completely different format than the standard Microsoft Word default. I, for one, will continue to use the Microsoft Word default. Not only is it one less thing to remember to change, but if using footnotes is part of an attempt to save space in a document subject to page limitations, using the default will help.

The Microsoft Word default automatically numbers the footnotes, adds the separator line, puts no space between the separator line and the first footnote, aligns the superscript footnote reference number with the left margin, adds no space between the superscript number and the text of the footnote, adds no space between footnotes, and automatically makes the font smaller than the regular font. 

One caveat here is that some courts require the footnote to be in the same size font as the regular text. In that case, using footnotes does not save any space–particularly when the court-required font size is 14.

In your main text, there should be no space before your superscript footnote reference number and the word immediately preceding. However, if your footnote reference comes at the end of a sentence, the superscript footnote reference number should come immediately after the terminal punctuation with no space between the punctuation and the superscript number.

You should make an effort to keep your entire footnote on the same page as the reference. If your reader is already annoyed at being “interrupted” by being forced to the bottom of the page in the middle of a paragraph, they will be even more annoyed if they have to go to the next page and back again.

There is little more annoying than reading a document, getting to a footnote, and going to the bottom of the page only to see “Id.,” particularly when you see three or four of them in the next few footnotes. Just add that behind the text and be done with it. Your reader will thank you.

I know that footnotes, endnotes, and textnotes have a place in legal writing. Just use them sparingly and with good cause unless your intent really is to irritate your reader.