Legal drafting experts and drafters stress the importance of clarity and precision, as ambiguous wording in legal documents can have serious consequences. According to the authors of the Legislative Drafter`s Desk Reference, who both spent decades as editors in the House Legislative Counsel`s Office, punctuation can influence the court`s interpretation of the law. To ensure that a law is clear and unambiguous, the authors advise that “when establishing a number of points in a sentence . The last two elements of the series, like the previous elements, must always be separated by a comma. (p. 271). They warn that while the use of the last comma in popular writings may be discouraged, not including the last comma in the bill could lead to misinterpretation of the law. Other legislative guides also recommend using the serial comma to avoid misinterpretation of the law (see Legislative Drafter`s Deskbook: a Practical Guide by Tobias A. Dorsey). It should be noted that the Maine Legislative Drafting Manual generally discourages the use of serial commas.
Purdue University`s online writing lab has an excellent section on punctuation of all kinds. It would be a good investment of time to refresh your memory with the explanations and exercises on this site. However, here are brief discussions on some of the most common punctuation errors. Ken, he still lingers in some of the busiest back rooms of English legal practice. Strangely, periods seem to be allowed, but no other punctuation. Even where it is not directly encountered, I sense a reluctance among some cartoonists to use punctuation, as if folklore about the dangers of punctuation silently fulfills their dreams. In the example described above, these two clauses could easily appear as 2 separate sentences. However, the semicolon allows the reader to clearly see the connection between them. Don`t make the mistake of simply separating these types of clauses with a comma.
In addition to interrupting the flow of the sentence with false punctuation, you also turn the statement into a break-in phrase. The hyphen is perhaps the least used sign in legal writing. The hyphen can be used in a variety of ways, including creating a pause in thought, a colon in conversation, emphasizing a concluding sentence, an explanation in parentheses, or indicating a collection of grouped ideas. In the world of legal writing, there are cases where a comma is simply insufficient or exaggerated and parentheses are too distracting. In these cases, a hyphen may be useful. At headquarters, we often receive general questions from the public about wills and the history behind some common practices. One we have received several times concerns the use or non-use of punctuation in wills and escrow documents. When creating legal documents, it is essential to use correct punctuation, precise grammar, and correct wording. A good example of this rule is a case in Maine about overtime pay that depended on a missing comma. In O`Connor v. Oakhurst Dairy, U.S. Court of Appeals (1st Circuit, May 13, 2017), delivery drivers sued their employers over whether drivers were entitled to overtime pay.
The court ruled in favor of the drivers, ruling that employers must pay overtime because certain clauses in Maine`s overtime laws were grammatically ambiguous due to the absence of a comma. Punctuation is a component of writing that people rarely think about or notice, except when it`s wrong. At worst, misused punctuation marks — commas, semicolons, quotation marks, and the like — can confuse the meaning of your sentences and leave your reader confused and frustrated. Even less glaring mistakes, such as a missing or misplaced apostrophe, can make your written work look like carelessness and lack of attention. If Parliament had used a continuous comma, it would have been clear that distribution was an independent overtime activity. But without the comma, the court concluded that the law is ambiguous about whether distribution is a separate activity or whether the entire last clause – “packaging for shipping or distribution” – is an activity, meaning only people who package dairy products are exempt. The drivers distributed the perishable food, but did not pack it. In most legal documents, the hyphens used in the text appear to be intentionally perceptible to most readers.
Although hyphens and hyphens are regularly used in many different spellings, two specific types of hyphens – hyphen and hyphen – play an important role in legal drafting. To improve your overall legal writing, try WordRake. It`s free for seven days! Perhaps one of the most common errors in punctuation is its relationship and placement in quotation marks. Many people seem more comfortable putting their quotation marks before punctuation (e.g., Mr. Smith stated that “the driver appeared drunk at the scene”). Grammar snobs on social media love to talk about this punctuation mark. But it is not a special character, it is a specific use of an existing character: the comma. In a series of three or more, the comma that follows the penultimate element and is immediately preceded is called the Oxford comma or series. The use of the Oxford comma is primarily a matter of preference and varies by region and profession.