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By Victoria Szymczak, Director of the Law Library.
Words are a lawyer’s sword. Using just the right word, correct sentence structure, and proper grammar all make an impression on your clients and colleagues. Yet, everyone makes mistakes. There are some tools you can incorporate into your workflow beyond your word processor’s internal spelling and grammar checkers that will help you leave an impressive mark on your readers.
Grammarly (https://www.grammarly.com) is one of the most popular grammar checkers. It offers free online text editor and free browser extensions for Chrome, Safari, and Firefox that corrects over 150 types of errors in the free version and 250 types of errors in the subscription version. It flags punctuation, grammar, writing style, contextual spelling, and sentence structure errors. Grammarly will offer an explanation on what the error is and offer to improve or replace the errors so it helps you learn how not to make that mistake again.
Another powerful tool that has both a free and subscription version is Pro-Writing Aid (https://prowritingaid.com). With PWA, either paste text into the website, or, with the subscription version, download the add-in and run checks directly from Word. It can provide up to 19 different reports that address overused words, sentence length variation, complex words and “sticky” sentences (sentences comprised of short words the reader has to wade through to get to the meaning). There is a 14-day trial period so you can give it a whirl before committing to the full version.
You can find reviews of the ten best online grammar and punctuation checkers for 2018 at FirstSiteGuide.com (https://firstsiteguide.com/grammar-checker-tools/).
Before signing off, I want to alert you to Core Grammar for Lawyers (https://www.coregrammarforlawyers.com). Core Grammar is not a grammar checker. It is a self-directed learning experience for those in the legal profession who want to perfect their grammar skills. Core Grammar is a subscription service. The subscription includes: Pre-test of general and law-specific grammar skills; online Lessons on each tested topic; interactive practice Exercises following each Lesson; an Index of Grammar Rules for students to use as a reference; and Post-Tests to confirm mastery.
Finally, if you are wondering how proficient or deficient your writing skills are, try identifying the problems in the following statements which has been spotted on many social media outlets:
• A dangling participle walks into a bar. Enjoying a cocktail and chatting with the bartender, the evening passes pleasantly.
• A bar was walked into by the passive voice.
• An oxymoron walked into a bar, and the silence was deafening.
• Two quotation marks walk into a “bar.”
• A malapropism walks into a bar, looking for all intents and purposes like a wolf in cheap clothing, muttering epitaphs and casting dispersions on his magnificent other, who takes him for granite.
• Hyperbole totally rips into this insane bar and absolutely destroys everything.
• A question mark walks into a bar?
• A non-sequitur walks into a bar. In a strong wind, even turkeys can fly.
• Papyrus and Comic Sans walk into a bar. The bartender says, “Get out — we don’t serve your type.”
• A mixed metaphor walks into a bar, seeing the handwriting on the wall but hoping to nip it in the bud.
• A comma splice walks into a bar, it has a drink and then leaves.
• Three intransitive verbs walk into a bar. They sit. They converse. They depart.
• A synonym strolls into a tavern.
• At the end of the day, a cliché walks into a bar — fresh as a daisy, cute as a button, and sharp as a tack.
• A run-on sentence walks into a bar it starts flirting. With a cute little sentence fragment.
• Falling slowly, softly falling, the chiasmus collapses to the bar floor.
• A figure of speech literally walks into a bar and ends up getting figuratively hammered.
• An allusion walks into a bar, despite the fact that alcohol is its Achilles heel.
• The subjunctive would have walked into a bar, had it only known.
• A misplaced modifier walks into a bar owned a man with a glass eye named Ralph.
• The past, present, and future walked into a bar. It was tense.
• A dyslexic walks into a bra.
• A verb walks into a bar, sees a beautiful noun, and suggests they conjugate. The noun declines.
• An Oxford comma walks into a bar, where it spends the evening watching the television getting drunk and smoking cigars.
• A simile walks into a bar, as parched as a desert.
• A gerund and an infinitive walk into a bar, drinking to forget.
• A hyphenated word and a non-hyphenated word walk into a bar and the bartender nearly chokes on the irony.