Friday, December 15, 2017

Optimizing Microsoft Word for LRW

Word IconLegal research and writing courses usually have strict lines-per-page, margin, typeface, and other stylistic requirements. Legal writing, in general also requires the use of special characters most first-year students have never needed before. The following post details how to optimize some of the settings and features of Microsoft Word for the task.

Stylistic Requirements

Correctly formatting your document should be among the first things on your checklist when you receive an LRW assignment. Writing the assignment in an incorrect format can lead to terrifying last-minute surprises.  Discovering that you are over the page limit only a few minutes before the deadline is not conducive to quality revisions.

Be sure to read through your course manual and stylistic requirements before you begin writing and formatting. This post assumes a fairly standard set of stylistic requirements— twelve characters per inch limit, maximum of twenty-six lines per page, one-inch margins, and not right justified. Some professors will dictate the specific font they require while others may provide a characters per inch maximum.  For more detail on complying with typeface requirements see Quick Tip: Complying with Characters per Inch Font Requirements.

Paragraph Options

Accessing the Paragraph dialog box

Accessing the Paragraph dialog box

The paragraph options menu is a key place to start. These options can be accessed by opening the Paragraph dialog box in from the ribbon or from the right click menu.

Line Spacing

First, you may want to adjust the line spacing. Through trial-and-error, I know that the stylistic requirements above can be satisfied with size 10 Courier New font and a line spacing of 2.2. Modifying the line spacing from the standard double spacing can ensure that your assignments comply with the maximum lines per page requirements.

Widow/Orphan Control

Found under the Line and Page Breaks tab, this option enables or disables Word’s widow and orphan control functionality. A widow is a “paragraph-ending line appearing at the top of a page.” Chicago Manual of Style 904 (16th ed. 2010). An orphan is a paragraph-opening line “stranded at the bottom of a page.” Id. at 899. Orphans and widows should be avoided in most writing but in a few applications, LRW assignments, screenwriting, and novel writing for example, you may be required to have a consistent number of lines per page. This option is on by default and prevents orphan and widow lines by varying the number of lines per page. Turning the option off will allow  you to keep the number of lines per page consistent.

For a great explanation of the remaining options under Line and Page Break tab see The line and page breaks options in Word, CompusSavvy’s Word & WordPerfect Tips (Jan. 30, 2011 9:42 PM).


Proofreading Tweaks

Word has several proofreading settings that are turned off by default that can be very useful in legal writing. The key to effectively using Word’s proofing settings and the grammar checker is customization. See Wayne Schiess, Customize Word’s Grammar Checker, Blog (Dec. 4, 2012). These options can be accessed by clicking File → Options → Proofing.

Customize the Spelling Settings. One fairly unique aspects of legal writing is the use of all caps in point headings, and Word does not check for spelling errors in all caps by default. Spelling errors in point headings are an all-too-common occurrence.  Unchecking the “Ignore words in UPPERCASE” option will correct this. Unchecking “Ignore words that contain numbers” can also help prevent the occasional finger-slip typo.

Ignore words in UPPERCASE

Customize Grammar and Style Settings. Under “Writing Settings,” select “Grammar & Style” in the drop-down menu and click the settings button.

“Require” Settings: I would recommend customizing the options under the first segment of options. These options can catch a few common errors.

Comma Required before last item. This option should be set to “always.” The Oxford comma is highly recommended in legal writing because it limits the number of possible interpretations of your writing.

Punctuation required with quotes. As noted in Punctuation Inside or Outside of Quotation Marks?, commas and periods should be place inside of quotation marks. Selecting “inside” in the drop-down menu will allow Word to flag violations of this rule.

Spaces required between sentences. The general, but sometimes hotly contested, consensus is that sentences should be followed by one space. Set this option to whatever your professor prefers. Note that if you select two spaces, Word will tag single spaces following abbreviations in citations as incorrect and you will need to ignore it.

Grammar: The following are recommendations for the general population of legal writers. Further customization may be needed to tailor Word for your personal needs. For detailed explanations of each option see Microsoft’s support page.

Capitalization: On.
Fragments and run-ons: Off.
Misused words: On.
Negation: On.
Possessives and plurals: On.
Questions: On.
Relative clauses: On.
Subject-verb agreement: On.
Verb phrases: On.


Cliches, colloquialisms, and jargon: On.
Contractions: On.
Fragment—stylistic suggestions: Off.
Gender-specific words: Off.
Hyphenated and compound words: On, but consult a style manual to verify.
Misused words — stylistic suggestions: On.
Numbers: Off.
Passive sentences: On.
Possessives and plurals — stylistic suggestions: On.
Punctuation — stylistic suggestions: Off.
Relative clauses — stylistic suggestions: On.
Sentence length (more than 60 words): Off.
Sentence structure: Off.
Sentences beginning with “And,” “But,” or “Hopefully”: Off.
Successive nouns (more than three): Off.
Successive prepositional phrases (more than three): Off.
Unclear phrasing: Off.
Use of first person: Off.
Verb phrases — stylistic suggestions: On.
Wordiness: On.
Words in split infinitives (more than one): Off.

Style and Grammar Options

Time Savers

Use auto correct to simplify inserting special characters. This tweak can save you time and also make note taking for class easier if you like to use Π and Δ as shorthand. Access this feature by clicking on File → Options → Proofing → Auto Correct Options. Now you can type any combination of characters and what you would like word to automatically change them to.

For example, ss = §, pf =¶, pl =Π, df = Δ, etc.  You may also want to add the plural form of your special characters, that is, ssss = §§, pfpf = ¶¶, pls = Πs, etc.

Just be sure that the letter combinations you choose are not commonly used themselves. Do not use pg as the shortcut for a pilcrow (¶) if you use pg as an abbreviation for “page.” Words containing your shortcut letters will still appear correctly.  I.e., class appears correctly even though it contains the ss used as a shortcut for §.

Word Options AutoCorrectAuto Correct Options


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