A large part of any attorney’s job consists of trying to persuade someone (a client, opposing counsel, an arbitrator, a judge) that the legal arguments you are making are not only factually and legally correct, but logical as well. A poorly written memorandum, motion, or brief can push you farther from that goal, just as surely as a well-written one can bring you closer to it. Grammatical errors and stylistic inconsistencies can distract readers instead of leading them along the logical path you want them to follow.
Your word-processing program can help you write well. You can use Microsoft Word to check your document for grammatical errors and to point out instances where your document does not conform to the style guidelines you have selected.
Grammar and writing style options
You can set grammar and writing style options in the Grammar Settings dialog box.
- In Microsoft Word, on the Tools menu, click Options.
- Click the Spelling & Grammar tab, and then click Settings.
- In the Grammar Settings dialog box, select or clear the check boxes to set the options you want.
What the Grammar and Style options detect
The following lists describe the Grammar and Style options that you can select in Microsoft Word 2002 and later. (For information about these options in Word 2000, see Help in that version of Word.)
- Capitalization Capitalization problems, such as proper nouns ("Mr. jones" should be "Mr. Jones") or titles that precede proper nouns ("aunt Helen" should be "Aunt Helen"). Also detects overuse of capitalization.
- Fragments and Run-ons Sentence fragments and run-on sentences.
- Misused words Incorrect usage of adjectives and adverbs, comparatives and superlatives, "like" as a conjunction, "nor" versus "or," "what" versus "which," "who" versus "whom," units of measurement, conjunctions, prepositions, and pronouns.
- Negation Use of multiple negatives.
- Noun phrases Incorrect noun phrases; a/an misuse; number agreement problems in noun phrases ("five machine" instead of "five machines").
- Possessives and plurals Use of a possessive in place of a plural, and vice versa. Also detects omitted apostrophes in possessives.
- Punctuation Incorrect punctuation, including commas, colons, end-of-sentence punctuation, punctuation in quotations, multiple spaces between words, or a semicolon used in place of a comma or colon.
- Questions Nonstandard questions such as, "He asked if there was any coffee left?", "Which makes an offer a good solution?", and "She asked did you go after all?".
- Relative clauses Incorrect use of relative pronouns and punctuation, including "who" used in place of "which" to refer to things, "which" used in place of "who" to refer to people, unnecessary use of "that" with "whatever" and "whichever," or "that's" used in place of "whose."
- Subject-verb agreement Disagreement between the subject and its verb, subject-complement agreement, and subject-verb agreement with pronouns and quantifiers (for example, "All of the students has left" instead of "All of the students have left").
- Verb phrases Incorrect verb phrases; incorrect verb tenses; transitive verbs used as intransitive verbs.
- Clichés, Colloquialisms, and Jargon Words or phrases identified as clichés in the dictionary; sentences that contain colloquial words and phrases, including "real," "awfully," and "plenty" used as adverbs; two consecutive possessives; "get" used as a passive verb; "kind of" used in place of "somewhat"; "scared of" used in place of "afraid of"; and "how come" used in place of "why"; use of technical, business, or industry jargon.
- Contractions Use of contractions that should be spelled out or that are considered too informal for a specific writing style — for example, "We won't leave 'til tomorrow" instead of "We will not leave until tomorrow."
- Fragment – stylistic suggestions Fragments that you might want to avoid in formal writing, such as "A beautiful day!" or "Why?".
- Gender-specific words Gender-specific language, such as "councilman" and "councilwoman."
- Hyphenated and compound words Hyphenated words that should not be hyphenated, and vice versa. Also detects closed compounds that should be open, and vice versa.
- Misused words – stylistic suggestions Nonstandard words such as "ain't," as well as miscellaneous usages such as "angry at" instead of "angry with."
- Numbers Numerals that should be spelled out (use nine instead of 9), and vice versa (use 12 instead of twelve). Also detects incorrect usage of "%" in place of "percentage."
- Passive sentences Sentences written in the passive voice. When possible, the suggestions are rewritten in the active voice.
- Possessives and plurals – stylistic suggestions Questionable but not strictly incorrect possessive usages such as "Her memory is like an elephant's" or "I stopped by John's."
- Punctuation – stylistic suggestions Unneeded commas in date phrases, informal successive punctuation marks, and missing commas before quotations — for example, "She said 'He is due at noon.'"
- Relative clauses – stylistic suggestions Questionable use of "that" or "which."
- Sentence length Sentences that include more than 60 words.
- Sentence structure Sentence fragments, run-on sentences, overuse of conjunctions (such as "and" or "or"), nonparallel sentence structure (such as shifts between active and passive voice in a sentence), incorrect sentence structure of questions, and misplaced modifiers.
- Sentences beginning with And, But, and Hopefully Use of conjunctions and adverbs at the beginning of a sentence, or use of "plus" as a conjunction between two independent clauses.
- Successive nouns (more than three) Strings of several nouns that may be unclear, as in "The income tax office business practices remained the same."
- Successive prepositional phrases (more than three) Strings of prepositional phrases, as in "The book on the shelf in the corner at the library on the edge of town was checked out."
- Unclear phrasing Ambiguous phrasing, such as "more" followed by an adjective and a plural or mass noun ("We need more thorough employees," instead of "We need more employees who are thorough"), or sentences that contain more than one possible referent for a pronoun ("All of the departments did not file a report" instead of "Not all of the departments filed a report").
- Use of first person Pronouns "I" and "me," which shouldn't be used in scientific or technical writing.
- Verb phrases – stylistic suggestions Use of indicative verb forms where the subjunctive is preferable; split verb phrases; and passive verb phrases — for example, "The pepper is able to be chopped without burning fingers."
- Wordiness Wordy relative clauses or vague modifiers (such as "fairly" or "pretty"), redundant adverbs, too many negatives, the unnecessary use of "or not" in the phrase "whether or not," or the use of "possible … may" in place of "possible … will."
- Words in split infinitives (more than one) Two or more words between "to" and an infinitive verb, as in "to very boldly enter the market."