Blacklining (or sometimes redlining)
In the olden days, a pair of articled clerks would sit together with two versions of a document. One would read aloud the new version and the other would mark the changes on the old, striking through deletions and writing in additions then underlining them. A red pen was typically used, hence redlining. With the advent of the monochrome photocopier, this became blacklining.
How quaint! But not so far into the mists of antiquity. We now have software that does all this with a few keystrokes, and very effective it is too. It also eliminates the human error attributable to sleepy, hungover students.
Just make sure you save the marked-up version as a new document, so you preserve the record of the document comparison.
Workshare Compare seems to be the market leader, but there are other products.
BriefCatch and ContractCatch
These are products from US legal writing expert Ross Guberman.
The first is intended for written advocacy, and will give a score out of a hundred for:
- reading happiness (use of active voice, word and paragraph length and the like)
- sentence length (including excessive length, variation in length)
- flow (use of effective transitions and other sign-posts)
- punchiness (verbiage-catcher)
- plain English
Guberman has also used BriefCatch to assess the quality of judicial decisions, particularly those from SCOTUS.
ContractCatch will spot potentially ambiguous wording, inconsistent terminology, grammar and spelling errors, plain English issues.
Both tools suggest edits, which can be accepted or rejected.
A neat product that whizzes through a document (not necessarily a contract) and locates problems like capitalised defined terms that lack actual definitions, unpaired quotation marks, spacing variations and inconsistent numbering of sections and paragraphs.
Fiddly stuff that the human eye may well miss, in other words.
Users say the software does come up with some false positives, but it finds a lot that human review will overlook.
This comes with Microsoft Word, and some people love it. I don’t.
Track Changes does offer the ability to make marginal comments as well as revisions to the text, but also requires the reviewer of the document to accept or reject the previous editor’s comments and edits.
That process is annoying – or I think so, anyway. And any subsequent changes, even if those don’t involve input from another person, result in a marked-up document.
You also have to be very sure you have cleaned all the metadata from your document when you send it to someone external; otherwise, the recipient will see all those marginalia saying things like ‘Not sure this is a good argument but let’s try it anyway!’