Place Words Carefully/PEN/NPR
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Place Words Carefully

[checkmark] Avoid ambiguous phrasing that can mislead your reader.

How you place words in relation to each other can greatly affect your document. Using short sentences will often make this problem disappear.

In the example below, it is difficult for the reader of the old style provision to figure out which words relate to the forest products, which relate to the tribe, and which relate to the payments.

Upon the request of an Indian tribe, the Secretary may provide that the purchaser of the forest products of such tribe, which are harvested under a timber sale contract, permit, or other harvest sale document, make advance deposits, or direct payments of the gross proceeds of such forest products, less any amounts segregated as forest management deductions pursuant to section 163.25, into accounts designated by such Indian tribe. If you ask us, we will require purchasers of your forest products to deposit their payment into an account that you designate.

(a) You can instruct us to deposit advance payments as well as direct payments into the account.

(b) We will withhold from the deposit any forest management deductions under section 163.25.

You will eliminate many potential sources of ambiguity by writing shorter sentences. The less complex the sentence, the clearer the meaning and the smaller the chance of ambiguity creeping in. Still, you must watch how you place words even in short sentences. In the example below, the reader may have to read the original statement several times to figure out that we don't mean "If you really want to have a disability . . ."

If you are determined to have a disability, we will pay you the following:If we determine that you have a disability, we will pay you the following:

As you write, place your words with care to avoid possible misinterpretations or muddied meanings. A carefully written document is clear, concise, and unambiguous.

[checkmark]Draft your document with care to eliminate unclear phrasing.