Small ideas on legal practice, research and technology

Archive for ‘Research & Writing’


Oh, words. So useful, but so easily confused.

Back story/background

Recently overheard in the hallway: That’s the back story to the file.

Well, not quite. A back story is the fabricated biography that a spy is given as a cover, especially for the purposes of a future interrogation by someone hostile.

What the person in the hallway meant was just background – although perhaps back story sounds more exciting.


A recent request that crossed the screen: Can you queue up a meeting?

While you queue up for tickets (or, more usually, in North America, line up), timing …

Posted in: Research & Writing

Comma Fails From People Who Should Know Better

Exhibit A, posted on LinkedIn by a copywriter and editor:

My husband, John Blank and I are relocating to Canada in April.

Without a comma after John Blank (the name has been changed to protect the guilty by association), this means the writer is moving with an unnamed husband and this other dude, John Blank.

What is probably meant is that our copywriter is moving with one husband, whose name is (for our purposes) John Blank, and him alone.

There needs to be a comma after the husband’s name to indicate that we’re not dealing with a throuple (unless that …

Posted in: Research & Writing

Note Up Older Legislation

Noting up legislation is straightforward. On CanLII you enter the name or citation of the act in the note up field; in Lexis Advance you enter the citation of the section you are interested in preceded by cit: (e.g. cit: SBC 2011 c 25 s 160) and in Westlaw Canada you enter the citation of the section you are interested in preceded by kc: (e.g. kc: SBC 2011 c 25 s 160).

However if you note up only the current version of the legislation you may miss out on some older but still relevant cases.

In order to …

Posted in: Research & Writing

‘I Hope This E-Mail Finds You Well’

This phrase, beloved of vendors of products and services you probably don’t want and with whom you are unacquainted, is puzzling.

What do they mean?

The first possibility is that the sender hopes (or pretends, for the sake of fake-friendliness) that when the e-mail finds me, I am well.

That is, healthy, in a state of contentment etc.

That interpretation is unlikely not only because it presupposes the sincerity of the wish, but also because I am 99.999% sure that the sender would use good (not the grammatically correct well) in response to the question ‘How are you?’…

Posted in: Research & Writing


Translation: ‘too long; didn’t read’.

This is the verdict, Aaron Orendorff argues, on most work-related writing.

Orendorff, a writer and editor, suggested a while back in the New York Times that your work colleagues really don’t want to read anything you write in a professional setting.

It’s not that they don’t like you or that you write badly; it’s just that they (like you) are inundated with reading material.

He offers eight strategies to get people to read what you send them (because some of it actually might be important):

  • Write less often
    • scarcity is more valuable
    • keep personal conversations
Posted in: Research & Writing

Problem Verbs (And Gerunds)

Problematic because they are newfangled and ugly.


Seen in a recent lawyer blog post: The court errored when …

Nope. It erred or made an error.

To paraphrase the poet, to err is human; to error is unforgivable.


We correctly refer to the skilled trades, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK to turn skill into a verb.

Even worse are those jargony hybrids, reskill and upskill, and their derivatives reskilling and upskilling. (Can one ever downskill?)

You mean training, learning, acquiring new skills.


Typically a noun, but halfway to a …

Posted in: Research & Writing

Finding Alberta Government Publications

If you’re trying to find an Alberta government publication one very helpful resource is Alberta’s open government portal. This is “a collection of datasets and publications by government departments and agencies.” Currently it contains 24,503 Government of Alberta publications.

To search for a publication go to; you can limit your results by topic, ministry and publication type. It also includes tags which can be helpful in locating similar publications.

Susannah Tredwell

Posted in: Research & Writing


The slash is more correctly called the solidus, the oblique or the virgule. We see it in URLs all the time.

It is much older than the interweb, of course.

If you are old enough, and British enough, you’ll remember it as the mark for a shilling: 2/- meant two shillings in pre-decimal currency. It was also used after the number of pounds: £4/5/3½ is ’four pounds, five shillings, threepence halfpenny’, that last bit pronounced thruppence hayp’ny.

The ½ symbol calls to mind another use of the solidus, in fractions (when the numbers aren’t placed vertically, with a …

Posted in: Research & Writing


This adjective isn’t my favourite. Perhaps it’s that weak, adverb-like —ly ending.

It’s unobjectionable in a timely reminder, but in a timely manner is like fingernails down a chalkboard, somehow.

I think that’s because of its fussy, needlessly formal tone and use of four words when one or two would suffice. On time (or even early) would do just fine.

Also unattractive is the American legal usage that turns the adjective into an adverb (as seen in the title of this US blog post): Does Your Company Timely Respond to All Reports of Potential Misconduct?

Are there …

Posted in: Research & Writing

A Possessive Puzzle

Is it Amber and Veronica’s children or Amber’s and Veronica’s children?

It could be either, depending on what is meant.

The first refers to the children Amber and Veronica parent together; the second to two sets of children, separately parented.

So, you would say Amber and Veronica’s children are in regular contact with their biological father but Amber’s and Veronica’s children went on the school outing, travelling in separate cars.

Things are different when you combine a noun and pronoun in the same sentence, however.

This is correct: Angela’s and my view is that …

Thanks to Ross Guberman …

Posted in: Research & Writing