Style Guidelines Can Make a Difference – Part 2 – Digging Deep: Specific Style Guidelines


*This article is part of a series. Read PART 1 – Setting the Stage: Some General Rules for Prospective Authors.

In this piece, I’m not getting into legal and related considerations.  Those provisions are taken up in the latest edition of the latest– 20th edition A Uniform System of Citation, familiarly known as the Bluebook,  which we, as barristers, fondly (or otherwise) remember, going back to law school.  Instead, I’ll zero in on  the related elements of good writing.  Let’s get started.

Personal Names and Titles.  Examples:  Mark Warner, senator from Virginia; Senator Warner;  the senator

Capitalization.  As a general rule, capitalize proper nouns bit not common nouns.  Tip:  When in doubt, do not capitalize.

Supra, infra, and id–do not capitalize unless they begin a sentenceThey should be italicized. 

Federal– should generally not be capitalized (but Federal Rules of Civil Procedure)

Court—do not capitalize unless referring to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Court; or unless naming a specific court in full (e.g., Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Constitution—Do not capitalize unless referring to the U.S. Constitution or naming a constitution in full.  In text, parts of the Constitution are capitalized and should be spelled out (e.g., Fourteenth Amendment, Article 1), but parts generally are not capitalized within a bracketed citation (e.g, [U.S. Const. art 11]).  Informal names of parts, such as the Commerce Clause, and Due Process Clause are capitalized.

Other Governmental Entities—Do not capitalize the words army, navy, governmental, or state, except when part of a term capitalized under another rule.  Capitalize the full names of legislative, executive, and judicial bodies, departments, and bureaus.  Examples:  National debt; National Guard; Federal  District Court; United States Congress; the 112th Congress; Congress But—the department.

Political and Geographic Subdivisions—Examples: Pennsylvania State University  But—the state

Organizations and Institutions—Capitalize full titles of companies aand institutions, including the names of their departments or divisionsHowever, do not capitalize words such as law school or company when used alone.  Examples: Bill of Rights; Declaration of Independence; Fourteenth Amendment; the University of Kansas School of Law  But–the law school

Personal Names of Titles—Examples:  Elizabeth Warren, senator from Massachusetts; Senator Warren; the senator

Commas.  (Serial Comma)  When punctuating a series, place a comma after each item, including the one before the final and.  Use the same rule for lists with or.  Example:  Would you like to see the case, statute, regulation, or rule?

Conjunctions.  When a conjunction joins two clauses of a compound sentence, place a comma before the conjunction, even though the clauses may be short.  Conjunctions are connecting words, including or, and, and but.  Clauses include both a subject and predicate.  Example:  The CEO divided his management team into three groups, and each group was given specific responsibilities.

ColonsMaterial after a colon should begin with a capital letter only if it is a complete sentence or more than one sentence.  Items in a series following a colon can be separated by commas rather than semicolons unless the items have internal punctuation or are long or complex.  Use a colon to introduce a formal statement or quotation.  Example: The lesson learned is:  If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Place a colon after the terms as follows or the following when followed directly by a list.   Example:  John Doe should take the following route:  (1) Route 1 North to Route 236; (2) left on Route 236 to the Beltway.  However, if the introductory statement is complete and is followed by other complete sentences, a colon is not needed.  Example:  The directions are clear.  See the detailed map on page 3.  Take Route 1 North to Route 236 and take a left.

SemicolonsUse a semicolon between two main clauses of a compound sentence that are not connected by a conjunctionExample:  Jane Smith didn’t visit the zoo on Sunday: the weather was blustery.  Use semicolons instead of commas when the items in a series are very long or include internal punctuation.  (See also “Enumeration,” immediately following, for an alternative treatment.)  Example:  The bar review lectures will be held in Burlington, Vermont; Portland, Maine; and Nashua, New Hampshire.

Enumeration.   Enumerations that are run into the text usually can also be indicated by small roman numerals.  As noted above, in a simple series with little or no punctuation within each item enumerated, separation by commas is sufficient.  Otherwise, semicolons are used.  A colon is not necessary if the sentence flows and is understandable without the colon.

Example:  The defendant was found guilty on the basis of (i) a bloody glove, (ii) a footprint, and (iii) a DNA sample.  Note that this sentence does not require a colon or semicolon.  Example:  The defendant was found guilty on the basis of three pieces of evidence: (i) the bloody glove, (ii) a footnote, and (iii) a DNA sample.  Note that this sentence requires a colon and commas, but semicolons are not necessary because the elements themselves are simple.

Hyphens.  Use hyphens sparingly.  Generally, do not hyphenate the following words, even if used as an adjective.  Examples:  bylaws, preexisting, common law long arm, rulemaking, counterclaim, nonmarital, overreaction, reelection, subdivided, superimposed, supranational, ultraconservative, underestimate, bipartisan.

A hyphen should not follow any adjective ending in “ly.”  However, the following should be hyphenated:  Examples: anti-lapse, co-conspiracy, co-defendant, co-party, co-tenant, out-of-state (adj.), post-trial, third-party (adj.)

Dashes.  Dashes are not hyphens.  Use sparingly.  A dash can usually be replaced by a comma, or the sentence can be rewritten with greater clarity.

Em-Dashes.  Dashes (known typographically as em-dashes are used to present a pause or break in thought; they are as wide as the letter m. If possible, use the em dash on your PC.  If you can’t use the em dash, consistently use two hyphens with no space on either side.  Example: Jim’s favorite course—Legislation–is held on Thursday.

En-DashesEn-dashes are used to mark a span of time or range of numbers. If possibly, use the en-dash on your PC.  Example: The class will be held on April 10-12.

Ellipses.  Ellipses are most commonly used to indicate words within quotes text.  In addition, they are occasionally used in informal writing for a stylistic effect to indicate a pause in speech or a break in thought.

Omissions within a sentence. To indicate an omission of words within a sentence of a quoted passage, a three-dot ellipsis should be used. Be sure to include a space before and after each dot.  Example:  The deposition is scheduled for three days, beginning on Monday. . .of next week.

Omissions between sentences.  To indicate omissions between sentences, end the sentence with its appropriate punctuation (such as a period or question mark) before adding the ellipsis.  Because the punctuation is most often a period, this ellipsis is referred to as a four-dot ellipsis. Examples:  The attorney went to court to argue a motion. . . .A ruling is expected shortly.  Or The attorney for the plaintiff delivered his opening statement, . . .

All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.

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