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.
Address One Person, Not a Group
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.
|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."
|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."
Use the singular whenever possible.
"Use the Present Tense In Your Letters"
A document written in the present tense is more immediate and
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.
|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.
|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.
Write in the present tense to communicate more efficiently.
Use "Must" To Indicate Requirements
The word "must" is the clearest way to convey to your readers
that they have to do something.
"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.
|Section 5511.1 Free Use of Timber on Oil and
(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.