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Part 4
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WRITING USER-FRIENDLY DOCUMENTS


Use Short Sentences ||
Address One Person, Not a Group ||
Use the Present Tense In Your Letters ||
Use "Must" To Indicate Requirements ||


Use a Question-and-Answer Format

[checkmark]Use short sentences to deliver a clear message.

The best way to tell your reader what you want is a short, straightforward sentence. Complex sentences loaded with dependent clauses and exceptions confuse the reader by losing the main point in a forest of words. Resist the temptation to put everything in one sentence; break up your idea into its various parts and make each one the subject of its own sentence.


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For good reasons, the Secretary may grant extensions of time in 30-day increments for filing of the lease and all required bonds, provided that additional extension requests are submitted and approved before the expiration of the original 30 days or the previously granted extension.We may extend the time you have to file the lease and required bonds. Each extension will be for a 30-day period. To get an extension, you must write to us giving the reasons that you need more time. We must receive your extension request in time to approve it before your current deadline or extension expires.


Complexity is the greatest enemy of clear communication. You may need to be especially inventive to translate complicated provisions into more manageable language. In the following example, we have made an "if" clause into a separate sentence. By beginning the first sentence with "suppose that" and the second sentence with "in this case," we have preserved the relationship between the two.


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If you take less than your entitled share of production for any month, but you pay royalties on the full volume of your entitled share in accordance with the provisions of this section, you will owe no additional royalty for that lease for prior periods when you later take more than your entitled share to balance your account. This also applies when the other participants pay you money to balance your account. Suppose that one month you pay royalties on your full share of production but take less than your entitled share. In this case, you may balance your account in one of the following ways without having to pay more royalty. You may either:

(a) Take more than your entitled share in the future; or


(b) Accept money from other participants.


[checkmark]Short sentences pep up and clarify your text and hold the reader's interest.


Address One Person, Not a Group

[checkmark] Singular nouns and verbs prevent confusion about whether a requirement applies to individual readers or to groups.

In the following example, the reader doesn't know whether each applicant must file applications at several offices, or whether applicants who are members of a group must file individual requests.

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Individuals and organizations wishing to apply must file applications with the appropriate offices in a timely manner. You must apply at least 30 days before you need the certification.

(a) If you are an individual, apply at the State office in the State where you reside.


(b) If you are an organization, apply at the State office in the State where your headquarters is located.


In addressing a single person, you can avoid awkwardness by using "you" to address the reader directly, rather than using "his or her" or "he or she."


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The applicant must provide his or her mailing address and his or her identification number. You must provide your mailing address and identification number.


Your reader probably will need only a single permit, application, or license. Thus, writing in the singular means that it will apply to the reader as written, eliminating the need to "translate."


[checkmark] Use the singular whenever possible.


[LETTER BUTTON]"Use the Present Tense In Your Letters"


[checkmark]A document written in the present tense is more immediate and less complicated.

Using the present tense makes your document more direct and forceful. The more you use conditional or future tense, the harder your reader has to work to understand your meaning. Writing entirely in the present tense saves your reader work and helps you to make your point clearly.


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These sections describe types of information that would satisfy the application requirements of Circular A-110 as it would apply to this grant program. These sections tell you how to meet the requirements of Circular A-110 for this grant program.


Even if you are covering an event that occurred in the past, you can clarify the material for your reader by writing as much as possible in the present tense.


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Applicants who were Federal employees at the time that the injury was sustained should have filed a compensation request at that time. Failure to do so could have an effect on the degree to which the applicant can be covered under this part. You may not be covered under this part if:

(a) You were a Federal employee at the time of the injury; and


(b) You did not file a report with us at that time.


You help your reader understand and relate to your document if you eliminate the need for him or her to "translate" the text from the past or conditional tense into the present. Remember, the less work your reader has to do to understand, the better he or she can follow your instructions.

Occasionally, of course, tenses may be necessary.   For example, NEPA documents frequently refer to what may happen in the future if certain events occur. But use tenses other than the present only when necessary for accuracy.


[checkmark] Write in the present tense to communicate more efficiently.


Use "Must" To Indicate Requirements


[checkmark]The word "must" is the clearest way to convey to your readers that they have to do something.

[LETTER BUTTON]"Expressing Requirements In Your Letters"


"Shall" is one of those officious and obsolete words that has encumbered legal style writing for many years. The message that "shall" sends to the reader is, "this is deadly material."   "Shall" is also obsolete; when was the last time you heard it used in everyday speech?

Besides being outdated, "shall" is imprecise. It can indicate either an obligation or a prediction. Dropping "shall" is a major step in making your document more reader friendly. Don't be intimidated by the argument that using "must" will lead to a lawsuit. Many agencies already use the word "must" to convey obligations with no adverse legal effects.

You can avoid "shall" by substituting "must" to indicate an obligation or "will" to indicate that an action will occur in the future. Be careful to consider which meaning you intend to communicate to your readers.


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Section 5511.1   Free Use of Timber on Oil and Gas Leases

(a) Any oil or gas lessee who wishes to use timber for fuel in drilling operations shall file an application therefor with the officer who issued the lease.

(b) The applicant shall be notified by registered mail in all cases where the permit applied for is not granted, and shall be given 30 days within which to appeal such decision.

(c) Where the land is occupied by a settler, the applicant shall serve notice on the settler by registered mail showing the amount and kind of timber he has applied for.

Section 5511.1   Can I use the timber on my oil or gas lease for fuel?

You must file an application to use the timber on your oil or gas lease for fuel. File the application with our office where you got your lease.

Section 5511.12   Will you notify me if you reject my application?

Our agency will notify you by registered mail if we reject your application. You must file an appeal of that decision within 30 days.

Section 5511.13   Must I notify anyone that I have applied for use of the timber?

You must notify any settler, by registered mail, that you have applied to use timber from your lease. Include in your notice:

(a)  The amount of timber you applied for; and


(b)  The kind of timber you applied for.


Use "must" to make clear that the reader is required to perform a certain action.

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