Lawyers are professional writers, so they’re professional editors, too. Here are some editing tips I’ve gleaned from experience and the sources cited at the bottom. Send your tips to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Admit that bad writing becomes good and good writing becomes great only through editing.
- Start composing (writing the first draft) earlier, without waiting to be finished with the research.
- Compose freely—avoid editing while composing.
- Build in ample time for editing—some suggest half the time on the project—and get in the habit of leaving a lot of time for editing.
- Use multiple techniques to trick your mind into not being familiar with your own writing: read aloud, edit from the end to the beginning, edit from the middle to the end and then from the beginning to the middle, edit one line (as opposed to sentence) at a time.
- Do some editing in print and some on a screen.
- When editing on a screen, alter the line breaks (squeeze in the margins) or enlarge the display size to make the text look less familiar.
- Take multiple passes and avoid trying to edit for everything at once: devote each editorial pass to a particular editing task, find or create an approach to editing in stages or passes, be sure the passes address both large-scale and small-scale matters, be sure the passes address both professional legal English prose and legal authority (and citations if any).
- Employ an editing checklist—a list of mistakes you make, of required parts the document needs, and of formatting and other matters to check: find a recommended editing checklist or create your own. As you master certain techniques and eliminate those glitches from your drafts, delete them, move on to other matters, and add them to your evolving checklist.
- Use the Search or Find function to search the document for every instance of various items, verifying that each is correct: search for every apostrophe, search for every quotation mark, search for every colon, search for every semicolon, search for every instance of –ly (thereby locating many adverbs and giving yourself a chance to eliminate weak adverbs). Add searches that are tailored to your writing or to the particular document.
- Employ the spell-checker effectively: learn its settings and set them to your preferences.
- Employ the grammar-checker wisely: change its settings and identify the things it’s good at detecting and the things it’s terrible at.
- Ask a trusted colleague to edit the document.
- Use a commercial application to help you edit.
Stephen V. Armstrong & Timothy P. Terrell, Thinking Like a Writer
Michael H. Frost & Paul A. Bateman, Writing Deskbook for Administrative Judges
Bryan A. Garner, Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage
Debra Hart May, Proofreading, Plain and Simple
Megan McAlpin, Beyond the First Draft
Wayne Schiess & Elana Einhorn, The Five-Pass Approach to Appellate Editing, 27 Appellate Advocate 41 (2015)