Appellate Advocacy Blog

Editor: Tessa L. Dysart
The University of Arizona
James E. Rogers College of Law

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

A "Writer's Toolbox" Part II: Idea Journal, Writing Bank, & Tech Tools

In a previous post, I introduced the legal-writing toolbox. I described seven resources that make up the “practical” library in my toolbox. In the comments section, several readers shared the top books in their toolboxes too. 

Today, I examine some additional tools I use as a writer. Again, I welcome your contributions in the comments section. I look forward to learning more from you. 

JournalIdea Journal 

The inspiration for an argument or article often strikes in the cereal aisle of the grocery store. For years, I thought, “That’s a pretty good idea. I’ll add that to my document tomorrow.” Then, when I sat down to write, I could not remember the epiphany that had befallen me in front of the Cheerios. This happened quite frequently. Now, I carry a small journal and pen with me wherever I go. I capture ideas in my journal as they come.

Electronic Writing Bank

I use Microsoft Word and a PC to write. Throughout the years, I have amassed an electronic collection of my own writing. In practice, I had templates for the various courts in which I practiced. I saved correspondence, pleadings, and “standard” legal language for certain sections of my briefs, like standards of review. As a professor, I have gone back to my storehouse and given my students some of my writing to edit. They enjoy finding mistakes in their teacher’s work. 

As a professor, I am still collecting my writing in an electronic bank, keeping it safe and secure. I have developed an organizational system, using electronic folders and file names that allow me to find what I needed quickly. Periodically, I clean out my collection and delete material I no longer need.

Tech Tools

I know enough technology to survive in the digital age. I’m sure I do some things the hard way, technologically, but it’s likely the only way I know how. Here are a few of the “tech tools” in my writer’s toolbox, which may or may not be new to you.

First, I remove metadata from my documents before I share them with someone. When you create a file, potentially identifiable information (metadata) is automatically stored in the properties of the file. Metadata includes information about who created the file, who made changes to the document and when, and the changes made. The easiest way I “remove” metadata is by converting my Word document to a PDF. It is my understanding that a viewer cannot mine a PDF document for the same metadata found in a Word document.

WritingWhen I am collaborating on a Word document, and cannot share it as a PDF, I often strip the document of its metadata before I send it. If you would like instructions on how to remove metadata from a Microsoft Word document, click here.

Second, one feature I appreciate in Word is the ability to link numbers within a document through the cross-reference function. Cross-references link numerical references within a document so that if you change the numbering system, Microsoft Word will update all the linked numbers. I find cross-references to be helpful in linking footnotes in law review articles, provisions in contracts, and paragraphs in pleadings.

For example, if I am drafting a settlement agreement with various numbered paragraphs, some of the numbered provisions will likely reference earlier numbered provisions. If I want to add a numbered provision in the middle of the agreement, all of my numbers after the newly-added provision will have to change.  If I change the numbers by hand, I will have to devote several minutes to making the changes and I risk missing a provision and having a mistake in my agreement. To avoid this problem, I use cross-references to link my numbers. Then, when I make a change, the cross-reference function updates the numbered references in a few seconds and the software does not miss any of the numbers, reducing errors.  For instructions on how to create cross-references in a document, click here.

Finally, when I don’t know how to do something in Word, I Google it. Individuals far smarter than I have created step-by-step instructions or videos on how to complete tasks that make writing easier in Word. When I search, I describe the task I want to complete along with the version of Microsoft Word that I am using because the instructions may change depending upon the age of my software.

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