Eliminating Word-Processing Debris

When I review my students’ contract-drafting assignments, I’ll flag instances of what I think of as word-processing debris: superfluous spaces or tabs that follow a given block of text. They look sloppy.

You wouldn’t see them in a printed copy of a document, and you wouldn’t see them if you haven’t selected “Show” in Word’s “Show/Hide” option. (What, you haven’t selected “Show”?) But anyone who has selected “Show” would see them if they elected to read your draft online.

And even if no one else sees it, word-processing debris nevertheless hints at indiscipline, and as such is anathema to the contract drafter’s Bushido.

Then again, maybe I need to ease up a little …

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.

8 thoughts on “Eliminating Word-Processing Debris”

  1. Ken, I appreciate your tidy mind and purity of approach.  Whether your students do is only known to those who have seen your feedback forms! :)

    Extending the subject slightly, I have long thought that the contract draftsman needs to have an advanced knowledge of certain features of Word (if only to fix problems in draft agreements that someone else has prepared), including:

    – use of styles, including spotting whether the draftsman has used styles consistently in the clause numbering
    – how to adjust the font sizes of spaces before and after paragraphs
    – beware the hidden codes that appear at the end of paragraphs (and which are not revealed by “show”, although they can be detected as a mysterious space at the end of the paragraph; by contrast, they used to be explicitly visible in Wordperfect, which I found very helpful – does Wordperfect still exist?)  When cutting and pasting text, inadvertant inclusion of these hidden codes can wreck the formatting of the destination paragraph
    – use of the cross-reference function
    – awareness that Word forces a line break after a table, which can be inconvenient

    I wonder if readers of this blog could suggest others?

    • Mark:

      I like your list. I would add:
      – use of a font that is appropriate to the intended use;
      – no use of the space bar or multiple tabs for horizontal alignment
      – no use of the enter key for vertical alignment (esp page breaks)
      – prevention of section titles hanging right above the page break
      – no mixture of fully justified and left-ragged jusitfication
      – no use of tables for ordinary text (which usually occurs when someone copies from a webpage or a spreadsheet)
      – no use of colored fonts (automatic for everything is fine)
      – no use of white font on dark background, except maybe for the highest level of section titles
      – more than five levels of numbered sections
      – inconsistent numbering for the same level of sections


  2. There is a legitimate meta-data concern when excessive “word-processing debris” is left in a document.  Mismatched styles, evidence of cutting and pasting, inconsistent numbering styles, etc. might lead to an argument that one party or the other was responsible for certain language (and the parties or a non-party would hold that language against the drafter) or that the change was made fraudulently/mistakenly in a way that the opposing party did not review.

    Add in the perpetual problem of maintaining proper cross-references, and the issues of indiscipline become more than just an arguably overcautious approach to drafting, but a real world concern in maintaining the integrity of the document as written.

  3. Thanks for bringing this up, Ken. I always use “Show,” and when given a document prepared by an associate, I delete all spaces immediately before and after a paragraph break, and change all occurrences of two spaces to one. I didn’t know anyone else did this, or that there was a name for it. I definitely do not think you (or I) need to ease up …

  4. Ken, thank you for addressing a pet peeve of mine–word processor detritus and failure to use the power of word processors (which are SO much more than glorified typewriters, as most users fail to understand or to employ to their advantage). All that mess makes for a challenge to other users in editing the document and creating a polished, finished product.

  5. Yes! I thought it was just me, but you are my people. I love the term “word-processing debris”! It’s perfect. Too many people use their word processing software as they would a typewriter (tab-tab-tab-tab-tab) when it is so much more powerful than that.


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