How to self-edit as a paralegal

Here at One Legal, we know that your filing prowess is only one of many superpowers you’re called on to use daily as a paralegal. In addition to administrative and organizational duties, your time is likely taken up by the need to research, write, and edit constantly. Moreover, the quality of your work on preparing reports, presentations, and legal documents can have a profound impact on the outcome of your cases.

Indeed, the importance of writing and editing to legal work is indisputable, but improving your skills in this area isn’t easy. How should you go about honing your editorial abilities? You might consider these helpful tips.

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#1 When you’re editing a draft, concentrate on meaning first

That’s right – despite that there’s so much to edit, including grammar and style of your work, try focusing on meaning first. Overall, the most important piece of a document is ultimately its goal, which is likely to convey a number of key arguments, ideas, and/or narratives. Be sure that, upon rereading your work, that these elements are clear, with no important details missing.

#2 Focus on grammar and parts of speech second

Once you’re sure the document captures all the intended meaning, focus on grammatical considerations like the consistency of verb tenses, parallel verb forms, and proper diction, ensuring there are no misused words. The correct use of prepositions and other transition words are also an absolute must.

Cheat sheet: Check out this free checklist from Grammar Girl – it’s even in printable PDF form!

#3 Next, check for nitty gritty accuracy

In addition to grammar, edit the document with a fine-toothed comb to make sure there are no misspellings, errant repetition of words, missing or misplaced words or letters, and that all details like names, addresses, and numbers are definitely correct.

#4 Aside from the text itself, ensure the styling and formatting of the document are consistent

Style and format elements include font style and size, page numbering, spacing, use of headings and subheadings, and the like.

When collaborating with colleagues on documents, you may want to use the track changes function in Microsoft Word, or “suggesting” mode in Google Docs, and make comments whenever appropriate in both applications. This lets colleagues visualize your suggested changes, and possibly explain your reasoning for some of the edits. And of course, reading aloud can be a useful strategy for finding inconsistencies in meaning and grammar.

Learn how to make your legal writing more readable:

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About the Author

Shendi Xu is an email marketing specialist. Her all-time favorite non-marketing activity is karaoke (she can sing all three Adele albums for you upon request!).

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