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Bar Association of San Francisco Member Benefits: Publications

Legal Writing Tip: In Auto-Correct Era, Be Vigilant with Typos


By Leslie A. Gordon, BASF Bulletin Contributor


We’ve all spotted typos – like overseas the school or one upon a time – and if we’re honest, we know our own errors have slipped right past us. In this age of auto-correct, when mortgage payment can transform to Motts apple sauce, vigilance is critical. In a binding agreement, an extra zero or an “a” instead of “the” can amount to malpractice. Eliminating typos also preserves your credibility: if your document has typos, the reader won’t trust your substance.

Use spell check, even for emails. But remember, it won’t catch a misplaced apostrophe or a homophone (complement/compliment or there/their). If you know that you always mistype certain words (“teh,” anyone?), customize spell check and auto-correct.

After cut-and-paste and onscreen edits, you may miss leftovers of earlier versions or a repeated “the” so print drafts and review them off line. Read the hard copy in a place other than where you wrote it – even your office guest chair. One tip I found online: change the font and margins for your review copy. Get distance from your work so you can examine it with a fresh perspective – give your brain a chance to forget what you meant to say. Some people read drafts backwards to catch typos. At the very least, read the sections in different order.

If possible, get a whole new pair of eyes to review your document. Establish a standing editing trade with a colleague or have your computer read the words out loud with those increasingly common text-speak applications.

Don’t forget to hunt for typos in headings and subheadings, contact information and other extras you may be tempted to gloss over. Try tapping each word with your pen to make sure you review everything. Although speed is essential to modern lawyering, don’t cut corners when it comes to proofing typos.


A former lawyer, Leslie A. Gordon is a freelance journalist living in San Francisco.

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