I continue to be amazed by some of the less-than-best writing practices of my friends and colleagues. Many of these practices relate to the ways in which they format documents. I recognize that many of these practices derive only from habit–not bad intentions. But that doesn’t make them any less annoying. And what makes them more annoying is the irrational devotion they garner.
What are these habits, you ask? Truth be told, there are too many to list here. But there is good news–I am not alone. There are others who feel strongly about the importance of documents done right.
Minnesota bankrupcty court judge Robert Kressel is one such sympathizer. Recently, he issued Order Preparation Guidelines for attorneys appearing before him. The Guidelines spell out a variety of writing misdeeds that Judge Kressel wisely abhors.
I have two thoughts about these Guidelines. First, they offer terrific advice that everyone should follow. Second, they demonstrate how helpful style guides can be and make me wish that there were more such guides in place–both in the judicial system and in the workplace.
All of the guidelines are great, really. But a few stand out for me.
The first guideline, for example, instructs parties to submit PDFs that have been converted directly from Word or WordPerfect–instead of by scanning printed paper copies. Amen! Why in the world anyone thinks it is somehow better to print a document and then hard scan that document to PDF positively escapes me. Print to PDF, people. Please, I beg you! As Judge Kessler points out, it saves tremendously on the size of the PDF. And it also provides a far better looking final document, as well as a searchable document. A document that is printed to PDF (as opposed to scanned) can also accept comments made with commenting tools in Acrobat, such as highlighting and adding “sticky notes.” (See my previous posts on the topic of PDFs for better documents for additional inspiration).
Judge Kessler also reminds lawyers to “limit the use of capital letters to proper names.” I’ve discussed the “ALL-CAPS disease” before but it bears repeating. For those of you who have held tight to this habit, please consider resolving to abandon it in the new year. Words that are typed in all capital letters are very difficult to read. For an excellent explanation of the phenomenon, see Robin Williams’ highly instructive and enlightening book, The PC Is Not a Typewriter.
There are other resources for those who are open minded and ready to make some positive changes to their document-formatting habits. Ms. Williams’ book is a fantastic place to start. (The book is closer to a pamphlet than War and Peace and serves as an excellent desk reference.) The Seventh Circuit has published an excellent and extensive set of guidelines for briefs (pdf). One of the sources cited in the court’s guidelines is Ruth Anne Robbins’ journal article, Painting With Print (pdf), which is far more detailed and a truly outstanding scholarly work. Finally, specific to the legal profession but applicable for all professions is Matthew Butterick’s blog, Typography for Lawyers.
So, wonderful readers, go forth into the new year with standards set high and paragraph alignment set to Left (please, no more justified paragraphs!). These are resolutions that, if kept, truly would help make the world a better place, one document at a time.
[Hat tip to the Lawyerist]
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