Tag Archives: punctuation

Techniques For Final Review Of Your Writing

There are several considerations involved in a final review of any writing. One of the most important is the appearance of the document. Writing that appears cluttered and dense will create a negative reaction in any reader. Strive to create well spaced documents with ample margins.

Organization of your writing is also important to help the reader to understand different levels of information. Break up your writing into visually manageable pieces. There should not be more than five to six sections on each page. The use of shorter sentences and paragraphs and grouping related items together will make it easier for the reader to understand your writing.

Be discreet in the use of emphasis. Use bold type or italics to highlight important points but use them in moderation for maximum effect. Don’t capitalize everything or underline too much.

Typeface selection, use of tables and graphics, and layout and color, are also factors to consider.

But nothing is more important than the elimination of spelling errors and the use of correct punctuation. These items are of paramount importance.

This point must be made absolutely clear: misspelled words will cause all of your hard work to sink – fast. So, be forewarned! It is absolutely imperative to make sure your spelling is correct. Misspelled words in particular are the bane of good writing; nothing will undermine your hard work and turn a reader off faster than a misspelled word, particularly if it’s a common one. You must take the time to check the spelling of any word that looks suspicious to you. Resorting to a dictionary for new or difficult words should be the first and ongoing choice.

Many writers shortcut the correct spelling of words either because they don’t know the correct spelling or are too lazy to find out. Spelling “nite” instead of “night,” and “thru” instead of “through” is the result of careless, sloppy, or lazy writing and is disfavored in good writing. Don’t take any shortcuts with your spelling; they will stamp you as an amateur.

Another solution is to record all misspelled words on a separate sheet of paper; the act of writing down the correct spelling should in itself help you remember it. Keep this paper handy for continued reference and add to it on a regular basis. Try to understand why each word was misspelled.

You can also master the intricacies of good spelling through visualization. Good golfers are said to visualize each shot before hitting it. If it works in golf, it can work in spelling. Teach yourself to picture the correct spelling of all misspelled words in your mind. Concentrate on the correct spelling of these words to be sure you see every letter. Then look away, spell the word, and look back for verification. Repeat this procedure on a regular basis until you can instantly recognize the correct spelling of each previously misspelled word.

Clear writing also requires the use of correct punctuation.

To some extent, punctuation has the same use in writing that the use of gestures, pauses, and vocal inflections have in speaking, i.e., for emphasis, or to reveal the precise relationship of thoughts. But the use of punctuation goes beyond what is necessary for emphatic writing.

The use of correct punctuation makes writing more understandable, and aids in the smooth flow and clear presentation of information. Without punctuation, all writing would be a jumble of words. The correct use of punctuation will mark you as a superior writer. This entails knowing how to use end marks, commas, apostrophes,quotation marks, semicolons, colons, dashes, and ellipsis. An accomplished writer will also be skilled in the use of parentheses and brackets, and be able to distinguish between the two.

Copyright 2013. Arnold G. Regardie. All rights reserved.

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Clear Writing Is Your Responsibility

This blog has repeatedly reminded readers that it’s never too late to learn to write clearly.  In fact, my eBook, “The Art of Clear Writing,” (available at amazon.com/kindlebooks, but soon to be available in print as well), devotes part of Chapter II to that very proposition.  I point out there that even lawyers with all their education are not always good writers. While it may be surprising to learn that lawyers and judges, with all of their emphasis on the written word, still strive to improve their writing skills, many examples of poor writing on their part can be found.

For example one judge, in writing his decision, clearly demonstrated that he did not understand how to structure a complete sentence, nor did he understand the difference between a comma and a period, or when to use capital letters.  Here’s what he wrote:

“This cause coming on for hearing, on the Motion to Set Aside Default, the Court hearing arguments, finds that this is a very unique case involving issues of first impression concerning the validity of the Will, the nine charities who are asking the default to be set aside, assumed the Personal Representative would be protecting their interest under the Will, this is not the case and in order to protect any interest the nine charities may have under the Will, the default entered against those nine charities only will be set aside, it is therefore Ordered and Adjudged that the Motion to set aside default is hereby Granted.”

This is nothing more than very sloppy writing, to say the least, and is inexcusable when coming from a judge.

In another case involving four plaintiffs and two defendants, missing apostrophes and the incorrect use of the singular “plaintiff” or “defendant” incurred the displeasure of the court in trying to figure out who is being referred to:

“Counsel uses possessives without apostrophes, leaving the reader to guess whether he intends a singular or plural possessive…Such sloppy pleading and briefing are inexcusable as a matter of courtesy as well as because of their impact on defendants’ ability to respond.”

Another court complained that its responsibilities did not “include cryptography,” and still another described a complaint as “gobbledygook” and “gibberish.”

A misplaced comma in yet another case, affected the burden of proof of mental competency.  In this case, an affidavit filed by the Director of Mental Retardation, stated as follows:

“I have reviewed the medical records pertaining to [complaining witness], the complainant in this case, and that the assertion, upon information and belief, of mental incompetency is true.”

Here’s what the court said:

“It may be that the confusion arises from the typographical error of placing a comma before the expression, ‘upon information and belief.’  Had the comma not existed the entire expression, ‘and that the assertion upon information and belief,’ would have referred back to the earlier mentioned accusatory instrument so as to render the affidavit non-hearsay.”

Thus, punctuation, seemingly unimportant and meaningless to some writers, plays a large part in the clear writing arena.  The use of correct punctuation makes writing more understandable.  It helps to provide a smooth flow of words and a clear presentation of information.

Wordiness, needless repetition of an idea, or tautology, is another issue which unfortunately plagues lawyers.  Courts are not hesitant about admonishing attorneys for not being concise.  Briefs should not be prolix, verbose, or full of inaccuracies, misstatements, or contradictions, as a court noted.  Further, in still another case, a court took an attorney to task for writing in “legalese” instead of English, and also condemned the writer for using “grammatically atrocious” wording in an indictment.

Punctuation and wordiness issues are also covered in my eBook.

In the legal profession then, clarity is a benchmark of good writing.  This goal should also apply to non-lawyers as well.  As my blogs have stressed, the ability to write clearly is an important part of the goal of building a skilled work force.  You can vastly improve your chances of finding a job or getting ahead in your job if you are presently employed by learning to write clearly.  Consider this as your personal obligation. You will help yourself as well as the economy.  It’s your turn.

Copyright © 2012.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

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Filed under active voice, clear writing, good diction, history, punctuation, sound sentence structure, tips for good diction, Uncategorized, Writing Improvement

Clear Writing Requires The Use Of Correct Punctuation Marks.

Punctuation is an extensive subject which will be discussed in several blogs.  Today’s blog covers end marks and the comma.

To some extent, punctuation has the same use in writing that the use of gestures, pauses, and vocal inflections have in speaking, i.e., for emphasis or to reveal the precise relationship of thoughts.  But the use of punctuation goes beyond what is necessary for emphatic writing.

The use of correct punctuation makes writing more understandable, and aids in the smooth flow and clear presentation of information.  Without punctuation all writing would be a jumble of words.  The correct use of punctuation will mark you as a superior writer.

End Marks.

The most common use of punctuation is to use a period at the end of a sentence.  If the sentence is for emphasis, use an exclamation mark.  If it is a question, use a question mark.


Several punctuation issues revolve around the correct use of the comma. Without the proper use of a comma sentence parts would collide, making the sentence difficult to read.  Use of a comma is required in a wide range of writing situations.

Use a comma in the following instances:

–  to set off (enclose or punctuate on both sides) a parenthetic statement (aka an interrupter);

–  between items in a series, unless and or or is used throughout;

–  between main clauses joined by a conjunction (and, but, or);

– to separate parts of a sentence which might confusingly be read together.  Rewrite the sentence if necessary.

Confusing and unclear – Despite replanting America’s forests are not limitless.

Made clear by punctuation – Despite replanting, America’s forests are not limitless.

–  to set off non-restrictive (non-essential) modifiers;  do not set off restrictive modifiers.

Restrictive – Students who work the hardest get the best results. [The who clause points out what particular students get best results.  If the clause were set off by commas, the sentence would mean that all students work the hardest.]

Non-restrictive – Shale oil, which used to be prohibitively expensive to recover, is now being recovered in greater quantities due to technological advances.  [The term shale oil specifies what kind of oil is being discussed.  The which clause adds extra information.  This information is not essential to the main thought that increased amounts of shale oil are being recovered.  If the clause was deleted the main thought would still remain.]

A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence is usually set off.

Non-restrictive – After sleeping all morning, Thomas was too embarrassed to go to work.;  Pressing the accelerator to the floor, Paul overcame the other racers.

Restrictive – Books dealing with automobile racing are in great demand.

Sometimes the wording of a sentence permits a clause to be either restrictive or non-restrictive.  When that happens, the writer may decide which of two meanings should be used.

Correct:  The speaker who spoke last week is also speaking again this week.

[The who clause is restrictive because it identifies the man who spoke].

Also correct:

The speaker, who spoke last week, is the same one speaking this week.  [The who clause is non-restrictive because the reader is supposed to know who the speaker is].

Certain clauses where adverbs such as while, after, though, since, if, as, and because are used, will also require a comma when used in a non-restrictive sense.

Non-restrictive while clause:

My brother-in-law has the best of all possible worlds, while I have to scrape out a living.  Restrictive:  Even so, he lets me use his house while he is away.

Non-restrictive after clause:

The meeting reached a vote at midnight, after all members had declared there was was an emergency.  Restrictive:  One member tried to reopen the meeting after it was adjourned.

Non-restrictive though clause:

The city has tried to fill all potholes, though there is no money for repairs.  (Though and although clauses are always non-restrictive).

Non-restrictive since clause:

He may be away, since his house has been dark for two weeks.  Restrictive:  His house looks better since it was painted.

Non-restrictive if clause:

Mr. Reynolds was there first, if you don’t mind.  Restrictive:  He will be upset if you get out of line.

Non-restrictive as clause:

The Raptors are now the best team in this league, as you said they would be.  Restrictive:  Bob watched the team eagerly as the season drew to a close.

Non-restrictive because clause:

Your back porch should be stained, because you need to preserve the redwood.  Restrictive:  I did not stain the porch because I wanted to improve its looks.

Copyright © 2012.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

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