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Part 3

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WRITING USER-FRIENDLY DOCUMENTS


Use a Question-and-Answer Format ||
Use "You" to Speak to The Reader ||
Use Pronouns to Represent The Reader and to Refer to Your Agency ||
Use Active Voice ||


Use a Question-and-Answer Format

[checkmark]The question-and-answer format is the most efficient way to communicate with your reader.

The reader comes to your document with questions that he or she needs answered. It's much more efficient to anticipate the reader's questions and pose them as he or she would. By doing this, you make it easier for the reader to find information.


"Question Headings Are Especially Helpful In Your Letters"


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SPECIAL GRANTS FOR ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND CORE MANAGEMENT GRANTS TO SMALL TRIBES
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ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND CORE MANAGEMENT GRANTS TO SMALL TIRBES
§ 254.11 Indian Rights.
§ 254.12 Applications.
§ 254.13 Multi-tribal grants.
§ 254.14 Administrative requirements.
§ 254.15 Appeals.
§ 254.11  How do the procedures in this part affect Indian rights?

§ 254.12  How do I apply for a grant under this part?

§ 254.13  When must I submit my application?

§ 254.14  Can a multi-tribal organization submit a single grant request?

§ 254.15  What special information is required for an application by a multi-tribal organization?

§ 254.16  Must each tribe in a multi-tribal organization submit certification forms and budgets?

§ 254.17  If I receive a grant under this part, what requirements must I follow?

§ 254.18  What reports must I submit after receiving a grant?

§ 254.19  How can I appeal administrative actions under this part?


The older version of the regulation had short headings that did not help the reader out with specific information. In rewriting the headings, we identified with the reader and formatted the material to fit the reader's needs instead of ours. As a result, we wrote additional questions that became separate sections. The old headings lumped all of this material together and made the reader do the searching. Now, we have done it for the reader.


By using questions as section headings, you'll help your reader find information more quickly.


Use "You" to Speak to The Reader


[checkmark] By using "you," you address your reader personally and add immediacy to your document.

When you address the reader as "you", the reader feels that you are addressing him or her directly. Remember that even though your document may affect a thousand or a million people, you are speaking to the one person who is reading it. When your writing reflects this, it is more economical and has a greater impact on the reader. By using "you" to answer the readers' questions, you clarify whom you are addressing.


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Copies of tax returns must be provided.You must provide copies of your tax returns.


Writing for an individual reader forces you to analyze carefully what you want the reader to do. By writing to an individual, you will find it easier to--

Be sure to define "you" clearly.


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Public Access to Information
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Public Access to Information
Facilities in regional and district offices are available to the public during normal business hours for requesting ... If you are a member of the public, you can get copies of our records at any regional district office ...


[LETTER BUTTON]"Use 'You' To Speak To The Reader In Your Letters"


Define "you" by any of the following methods--

  • State in the beginning of the document who the audience is--"This regulation tells you, a loan applicant, how to secure a loan."

  • Define "you" in the Definitions section--"You" means a loan applicant.

  • Where you address different readers in different parts of the document, define "you" in each context--"How do different types of borrowers apply for a loan? If you are a small business, you must submit ...  If you are an individual, you must submit  ..."
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Who is responsible for restoring the site?
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Who is responsible for restoring the site?
Lessees and operators are responsible for restoring the site. You must ensure that ... Lessees and operators are responsible for restoring the site. If you are the operator, you must conduct all operations in a way ...  If you are the lessee, you must monitor the operator to ensure that ...


Use "you" to engage your readers and let them know what they are expected to do.


Use Pronouns to Represent the Reader and to Refer to Your Agency


[checkmark] Use "I" to refer to the reader in section headings.

The question-and-answer format assumes that the reader is the one asking the questions. Therefore, use "I" in questions to refer to the reader. Do not use "I" in responses. In responses your agency (represented by "we") addresses the reader. By using "I" to ask questions in headings, you are anticipating questions the reader may have.


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Submission of applications. What must I do if I want a loan?


[checkmark]Use "we" to refer to your agency.

Use "we" to refer to your agency in the text of the regulation. By using "we" to respond to questions, you state clearly what your agency requires and what your agency's responsibilities are. You also avoid the passive and use fewer words. Since you will never be asking the questions (only the reader does that), you should not use "we" in section headings. You can define "we" in the definitions sections of your document if that will help the reader.


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Loan applications will be reviewed to ensure that procedures have been followed We review your loan application to ensure that you have followed our procedures.
The Office of Consumer Affairs will process your application within 30 days after receipt.We'll process your application within 30 days of receiving it.


[checkmark]Use "I" to represent the reader in section headings. Use "we" in place of your agency name. You'll save words and make your regulation more readable.


Use Active Voice

[checkmark] Active voice is the best way to identify who is responsible for what action.

In an active sentence, the person or agency who is taking an action is the subject of the sentence. In a passive sentence, the person or item that is acted upon is the subject of the sentence. Passive sentences often do not identify who is performing the action.


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The lake was polluted by the company. The company polluted the lake.
New regulations were proposed. We proposed new regulations.
The following information must be included in the application for it be considered complete. You must include the following information in your complete application.
Bonds will be withheld in cases of non-compliance with all permits and conditions. We will withhold your bond if you don't comply with all permit terms and conditions.


More than any other writing technique, using active voice and specifying who is taking an action will change the character of our writing.

How do you identify passive sentences?

Passive sentences have two basic features, although both do not appear in every passive sentence.


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Regulations have been proposed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. We have proposed regulations.
The permit will be approved by the agency's State office.Our State office must approve your permit.


In a very few instances, passive voice may be appropriate. For example, when one action follows another as a matter of law, and there is no actor (besides the law itself) for the second action, a passive sentence may be the best method of expression.


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If you do not pay the royalty on your mineral production, your lease will be terminated [by the action of the law].


[checkmark]To communicate effectively, write the strong majority of your sentences in the active voice.