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Similarly, we often use excess modifiers such as absolutely, actually, completely, really,

quite, totally, and very. But if you take a close look, you’ll find that they often aren’t

necessary, and may even be nonsensical.

Don’t say Say

Their claim was totally unrealistic. Their claim was absurd.

It is particularly difficult to reconcile It is difficult to reconcile the differing

the somewhat differing views views expressed by the management

expressed by the management team. team.

Total disclosure of all facts is very Disclosing all facts is important to

important to make sure we draw up a creating an accurate picture of the

total and completely accurate picture Agency’s financial position.

of the Agency’s financial position.

Avoid doublets and triplets. English writers love to repeat the same concept by using

different words that say the same thing.

Don’t say Say

due and payable due

cease and desist stop

knowledge and information (either one)

begin and commence start

Other ways to omit unnecessary words include eliminating hidden verbs, using

pronouns, and using active voice. See the guidance on those three topics (Avoid hidden

verbs, Use pronouns to speak directly to readers, and Use active voice) for more

information.

Here’s an example that uses several of the techniques discussed above to cut a 54 word

sentence down to 22 words, with no loss of meaning.

Don’t say Say

If the State Secretary finds that an If the State Secretary finds that you

individual has received a payment to received a payment that you weren’t

which the individual was not entitled, entitled to, you must pay the entire

whether or not the payment was due to sum back.

the individual’s fault or

misrepresentation, the individual shall 39

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

Don’t say Say

be liable to repay to State the total sum

of the payment to which the individual

was not entitled.

Omitting excess words can cut documents significantly. Be diligent in challenging every

word you write, and eventually you will learn to write not only clearly, but concisely.

Sources

Garner, Bryan A., Legal Writing in Plain English, 2001, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp.

43, 40, 34.

Kimble, Joseph, Lifting the Fog of Legalese, Carolina Academic Press, 2006, Durham, NC, pp. 93,

170.

Securities and Exchange Commission, Plain English Handbook, 1998, Washington, DC, p. 25.

40

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

iii. Dealing with definitions

We have ONE rule for dealing with definitions: use them rarely.

Definitions often cause more problems than they solve. Uniformly, writing experts

advise keeping definitions to a minimum (Dickerson 1986, Garner 2001, Kimble 2006). If

you can’t avoid them, use as few as possible. It’s better to take the time to rewrite to

avoid needing to define a term. If you must use definitions, follow the guidelines below:

Give common words their common meanings and don’t

define them.

Never define a word to mean something other than its commonly accepted meaning.

Reed Dickerson, in his landmark book, Fundamentals of Legal Drafting (1986), has this

advice for legal drafters:

It is important for the legal draftsman not to define a word in a sense

significantly different from the way it is normally understood by the persons

to whom it is primarily addressed. This is a fundamental principle of

communication, and it is one of the shames of the legal profession that

draftsmen so flagrantly violate it. Indeed, the principle is one of the most

important in the whole field of legal drafting.

Mr. Dickerson’s advice applies to any government communication, not just to legal

drafters.

Morris Cohen, in Reason and Law (1950), explains, “Whenever we define a word < in a

manner that departs from current customary usage, we sooner or later unwittingly fall

back on the common use and thus confuse the meanings of our terms.”

Furthermore, readers are likely to forget that you’d assigned some common word a new

meaning, and when they come upon the word later in your document they assign the

common meaning, rather than your specialized one. Here are some unnecessary

definitions. 41

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

Commonly understood words you probably didn’t need to define

Bicycle means every device propelled solely by human power upon which a person

or persons may ride on land, having one, two, or more wheels, except a manual

wheelchair.

Degrade means to lessen or diminish in quantity, quality, or value.

Age means how old a person is, or the number of elapsed years from the date of a

person’s birth.

And here are some examples of definitions that conflict with customary usage – you

should avoid these at all costs.

Commonly understood words with How uncommon meanings might

uncommon meanings confuse readers

Pages means paper copies of standard Ten pages into the document, how do you

office size or the dollar value equivalent think the average user would respond if

in other media asked to define “page”?

Coal deposits mean all Federally owned So if coal is held in trust for a Native

coal deposits, except those held in trust American tribe, it isn’t coal?

for a Native American tribe.

Dead livestock. The body (cadaver) of So if you slaughter it, it isn’t really dead?

livestock which has died otherwise than

by slaughter.

When possible, define a word where you use it

Avoid long sections of definitions at the beginning or end of your document. Go back to

Rule One. Rewrite to try to eliminate the need for most definitions.

If you must have a definition section, put it at the

beginning or the end

Place definitions at the end, in spite of tradition. In placing definitions at the end, you

allow your user to go right to the text, rather than having to go through less important

material. In definition sections, don’t number the definitions, but list them

alphabetically. This makes it easier for users to find a definition, and usually makes it

easier for you to change your definition section later. 42

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

Never include regulatory or other substantive material

in definitions

Not only is this common sense — your user doesn’t expect substantive material in the

definitions section — but for regulations it’s a requirement of the Office of the Federal

Register.

Consider this “definition” in Title 43 Part 3480 — Coal Exploration and Mining

Operations:

Maximum economic recovery (MER) means that, based on standard industry

operating practices, all profitable portions of a leased Federal coal deposit

must be mined. At the times of MER determinations, consideration will be

given to: existing proven technology; commercially available and

economically feasible equipment; coal quality, quantity, and marketability;

safety, exploration, operating, processing, and transportation costs; and

compliance with applicable laws and regulations. The requirement of MER

does not restrict the authority of the authorized officer to ensure the

conservation of the recoverable coal reserves and other resources and to

prevent the wasting of coal.

Hiding in this long passage is the definition, “Maximum economic recovery (MER)

means the mining of all profitable portions of a leased Federal coal deposit, based on

standard industry operating practices.” All the rest of the material belongs in the

substantive parts of the regulation.

Don’t define words you don’t use

Again, this seems obvious. But writers seem to automatically define terms they think

they might use, but don’t. This can be very confusing for the audience, who expects to

read something about the topic but can’t find it in the document.

Sources

Cohen, Morris, Reason and Law, 1950, The Free Press, Glencoe, IL, p.77.

Dickerson, Reed, Fundamentals of Legal Drafting, 1986, 2 edition, Little, Brown and Company,

nd

Boston and Toronto, pp. 137, 144.

Flesch, Rudolf, How to Write in Plain English, A Book for Lawyers and Consumers, 1979, Harper and

Rowe, New York, pp. 58-69, 79.

Garner, Bryan A., A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage, 2 edition, 1995, Oxford University Press,

nd

Oxford and New York, p. 257-258. 43

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

Garner, Bryan A., Legal Writing in Plain English, 2001, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp.

97-99.

Kimble, Joseph, Lifting the Fog of Legalese, Carolina Academic Press, 2006, Durham, NC.

Office of the Federal Register, Document Drafting Handbook, 1998, § 8.15.

www.archives.gov/federal-register/write/handbook/ddh.pdf. 44

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

iv. Use the same term consistently for a

specific thought or object

You will confuse your audience if you use different terms for the same concept. For

example, if you use the term “senior citizens” to refer to a group, continue to use this

term throughout your document. Don’t substitute another term, such as “the elderly” or

“the aged.” Using a different term may cause the reader to wonder if you are referring

to the same group.

Don’t feel that you need to use synonyms to make your writing more interesting.

Federal writers are not supposed to be creating great literature. You are communicating

requirements, how to get benefits, how to stay safe and healthy, and other information

to help people in their lives. While using different words may make writing more

interesting, it may decrease clarity. 45

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

v. Avoid legal, foreign, and technical jargon

What do we mean by jargon? Jargon is unnecessarily complicated, technical language

used to impress, rather than to inform, your audience.

When we say not to use jargon, we’re not advocating leaving out necessary technical

terms; we are saying to make sure your other language is as clear as possible. For

example, there may not be another correct way to refer to a brinulator valve control

ring. But that doesn’t prevent you from saying “tighten the brinulator valve control ring

securely” instead of “Apply sufficient torque to the brinulator valve control ring to

ensure that the control ring assembly is securely attached to the terminal such that

loosening cannot occur under normal conditions.” The first is a necessary use of a

technical term. The second is jargon.

Special terms can be useful shorthand within a group and may be the clearest way to

communicate inside the group. However, going beyond necessary technical terms to

write in jargon can cause misunderstanding or alienation, even if your only readers are

specialists. Readers complain about jargon more than any other writing fault, because

writers often fail to realize that terms they know well may be difficult or meaningless to

their audience. Try to substitute everyday language for jargon as often as possible.

Consider the following pairs. The plainer version conveys technical information just as

accurately as and more clearly than the jargon-laden version.

Don’t say Say

riverine avifauna river birds

involuntarily undomiciled homeless

The patient is being given positive-pressure The patient is on a respirator.

ventilatory support.

Most refractory coatings to date exhibit a The exhaust gas eventually damages

lack of reliability when subject to the the coating of most existing

impingement of entrained particulate matter ceramics.

in the propellant stream under extended

firing durations.

When you have no way to express an idea except to use technical language, make sure

you define your terms. However, it’s best to keep definitions to a minimum. Remember

to write to communicate, not to impress. If you do that, you should naturally use less

jargon. For more on definitions, see Dealing with definitions. 46

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

Legal language

Legal language in regulations and other documents is a major source of annoying

jargon. Readers can do without archaic jargon such as “hereafter,” “heretofore,” and

“therewith.” Professor Joseph Kimble (2006), a noted scholar on legal writing, warns

that we should avoid those words and formalisms that give legal writing its musty

smell. He includes in his list of examples the following words:

above-mentioned thereafter

aforementioned thereof

foregoing therewith

henceforth whatsoever

hereafter whereat

hereby wherein

herewith whereof

Another term that is losing its popularity in legal circles is “shall.” Obviously, it’s

especially important in regulations to use words of authority clearly, and many top

legal writing experts now recommend avoiding the archaic and ambiguous “shall” in

favor of another word, depending on your meaning. Read more about “shall” in Use

“must” to convey requirements.

Sources

Charrow, Veda R., Erhardt, Myra K. and Charrow, Robert P. Clear & Effective Legal Writing, 4 th

edition, 2007, Aspen Publishers, New York, NY, pp. 188-191.

Garner, Bryan A., Garner’s Modern American Usage, 2003, Oxford University Press, Oxford and

New York, pp. 472-473.

Kimble, Joseph, Lifting the Fog of Legalese, 2006, Carolina Academic Press, Durham, NC, pp.173-

174. 47

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

vi. Don’t use slashes

Apart from fractions, the slash has almost no good uses. “And/or” is a classic example.

In most cases, writers mean either “or” or “and.” But they don’t want to take the time to

decide which they mean, so they push the job off on the audience. That makes their

writing ambiguous. As an author, you should decide what you mean. In the few cases

— and there do seem to be very few — where you truly mean both, write out “either X,

or Y, or both.”

Often when writers use slashes, a hyphen is more appropriate to join equal or like

terms, as in “faculty-student ratio.”

Sources

Garner, Bryan A., Legal Writing in Plain English, 2001, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, p.

163.

Kimble, Joseph, Lifting the Fog of Legalese, 2006, Carolina Academic Press, Durham, NC, pp. 155-

156. 48

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

b. Sentences

Choose your words carefully. Start with your main idea – don’t start with an exception.

Word order does matter, so place your words carefully. Keep it short; it’s not a crime to

use lots of periods. 49

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

1. Write short sentences

Express only one idea in each sentence. Long, complicated sentences often mean that

you aren’t sure about what you want to say. Shorter sentences are also better for

conveying complex information; they break the information up into smaller, easier-to-

process units.

Sentences loaded with dependent clauses and exceptions confuse the audience 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 parts and make each one the subject of its own

sentence. Don’t say Say

Once the candidate’s goals are Once we establish your goals, we identify

established, one or more potential one or more potential employers. We

employers are identified. A preliminary prepare a preliminary proposal to present

proposal for presentation to the to an employer who agrees to negotiate a

employer is developed. The proposal is job that meets both his and your

presented to an employer who agrees to employment needs.

negotiate an individualized job that

meets the employment needs of the

applicant and real business needs of the

employer.

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 is, “if”) and the second

sentence with “in this case” (that is, “then”) we have preserved the relationship

between the two. 50

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

Don’t say Say

If you take less than your entitled share of Suppose that one month you pay

production for any month, but you pay royalties on your full share of

royalties on the full volume of your entitled production but take less than your

share in accordance with the provisions of this entitled share. In this case, you

section, you will owe no additional royalty for may balance your account in one

that lease for prior periods when you later take of the following ways without

more than your entitled share to balance your having to pay more royalty. You

account. This also applies when the other may either:

participants pay you money to balance your a. Take more than your entitled

account. share in the future; or

b. Accept payment from other

participants.

Sources

Charrow, Veda R., Erhardt, Myra K. and Charrow, Robert P. Clear & Effective Legal Writing, 4 th

edition, 2007, Aspen Publishers, New York, NY, pp. 163-165.

Garner, Bryan A., Legal Writing in Plain English, 2001, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp.

19-21.

Kimble, Joseph, Guiding Principles for Restyling the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Part 1),

Michigan Bar Journal, September 2005, pp. 56-57.

www.michbar.org/journal/pdf/pdf4article909.pdf.

Kimble, Joseph, Lifting the Fog of Legalese, 2006, Carolina Academic Press, Durham, NC, p. 96.

Murawski, Thomas A., Writing Readable Regulations, 1999, Carolina Academic Press Durham, NC,

p. 77.

Office of the Federal Register, Document Drafting Handbook, 1998, MMR-5.

www.archives.gov/federal-register/write/handbook/ddh.pdf.

Redish, Janice C., How to Write Regulations and Other Legal Documents in Clear English, 1991,

American Institutes for Research, Washington, DC, pp. 29-32

Securities and Exchange Commission, Plain English Handbook, 1998, Washington, DC, p. 28.

51

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

2. Keep subject, verb, and object close

together

The natural word order of an English sentence is subject-verb-object. This is how you

first learned to write sentences, and it’s still the best. When you put modifiers, phrases,

or clauses between two or all three of these essential parts, you make it harder for the

user to understand you.

Consider this long, convoluted sentence:

If any member of the board retires, the company, at the discretion of the board,

and after notice from the chairman of the board to all the members of the board

at least 30 days before executing this option, may buy, and the retiring member

must sell, the member’s interest in the company.

In essence, the sentence says:

The company may buy a retiring member’s interest.

All the rest of the material modifies the basic idea, and should be moved to another

sentence or at least to the end of the sentence.

Many sentences in regulations include “if-then” provisions. Often, “if” defines who is

covered by a provision. Start your sentence with the “if” provision, and then list the

“then” provisions. If the provision is complex, and especially if there are several

different “if” provisions, use a different sentence for every “if,” or consider using an if-

then table.

Consider this complex regulatory provision:

We must receive your completed application form on or before the 15th day of

the second month following the month you are reporting if you do not submit

your application electronically or the 25th day of the second month following

the month you are reporting if you submit your application electronically.

While still complex, the table is a significant improvement: 52

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

We must receive your completed application by the following dates:

If you submit your form … We must receive it by …

the 25th of the second month following the

Electronically month you are reporting

the 15th of the second month following the

Other than electronically month you are reporting

For more information on tables, see Use tables to make complex material easier to

understand.

Sources

Garner, Bryan A., Legal Writing in Plain English, 2001, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp.

23-24, 102.

Murawski, Thomas A., Writing Readable Regulations, 1999, Carolina Academic Press Durham, NC,

pp. 77-78.

Office of the Federal Register, Document Drafting Handbook, 1998, MMR-6.

www.archives.gov/federal-register/write/handbook/ddh.pdf

Securities and Exchange Commission, Plain English Handbook, 1998, Washington, DC, p. 32.

53

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

3. Avoid double negatives and exceptions to

exceptions

We’re accustomed to thinking and speaking positively. When we write in the negative,

we place another stumbling block in audience’s way and make it more difficult for them

to understand us. When you’re going to meet a friend at the airport, do you say, “If you

fail to arrive by 5:00, I cannot pick you up,” or do you say, “You have to arrive by 5:00 if

you want me to pick you up”?

When you write a sentence containing two negatives, they cancel each other out. Your

sentence sounds negative, but is actually positive. As Rudolph Flesch (1979) says, these

sentences require “a mental switch from no to yes.”

Don’t say Say

No approval of any noise compatibility You must get the agency’s express

program, or any portion of a program, approval for any noise compatibility

may be implied in the absence of the program or any portion of a program.

agency’s express approval.

Here are some expressions that signal double negatives.

Change the double negative To a positive

no fewer than < at least

has not yet attained is under

may not < until may only < when

is not < unless is < only if

Many ordinary words have a negative meaning, such as unless, fail to, notwithstanding,

except, other than, unlawful (un- words), disallowed (dis- words), terminate, void, insufficient,

and so on. Watch out for them when they appear after not. Find a positive word to

express your meaning. 54

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

Don’t say Say

An application for a grant does not An application for a grant remains active if

become void unless the applicant’s the applicant provides the information we

failure to provide requested request within a reasonable time.

information is unreasonable under

the circumstances.

Exceptions to exceptions

An exception that contains an exception is just another form of a double negative. That

makes it even harder for the user to puzzle out. Rewrite the sentence to emphasize the

positive. Don’t say Say

Applicants may be granted a permit to You may be granted a permit to

prospect for geothermal resources on any prospect for geothermal resources

federal lands except lands in the National on any federal lands. This includes

Park System, unless the applicant holds lands in the National Park System

valid existing rights to the geothermal only if you hold valid existing rights

resources on the National Park System to the park lands listed in your

lands listed in the application. application.

Sources

Charrow, Veda R., Erhardt, Myra K. and Charrow, Robert P. Clear & Effective Legal Writing, 4 th

edition, 2007, Aspen Publishers, New York, NY, pp. 178-180.

Flesch, Rudolf, How to Write in Plain English, A Book for Lawyers and Consumers, 1979, Harper and

Rowe, New York, p. 95.

Garner, Bryan A., Guidelines for Drafting and Editing Court Rules, 1996, Administrative Office of the

US Courts, Washington, DC, pp. 30-31.

Wydick, Richard, Plain English for Lawyers, 5 edition, 2005, Carolina Academic Press, Durham,

th

NC, pp. 75-76. 55

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

4. Place the main idea before exceptions and

conditions

When you start a sentence with an introductory phrase or clause beginning with

“except,” you almost certainly force the reader to re-read your sentence. You are stating

an exception to a rule before you have stated the underlying rule. The audience must

absorb the exception, then the rule, and then usually has to go back to grasp the

relationship between the two. Material is much easier to follow if you start with the

main idea and then cover exceptions and conditions.

Don’t say Say

Except as described in paragraph (b), The Division Manager will not begin the

the Division Manager will not begin the statutory 180-day review period for the

statutory 180-day review period for the program until the preliminary review

program until after the preliminary determines that your submission is

review determines that your submission administratively complete. However, see

is administratively complete. paragraph (b) for an exception.

In the first version, the audience has to decide whether to jump immediately down to

paragraph (b) or continue reading to the end of the sentence. This means the audience is

focusing on reading strategy, not on your content.

There is no absolute rule about where to put exceptions and conditions. Put them where

they can be absorbed most easily by readers. In general, the main point of the sentence

should be as close to the beginning as possible.

Usually use the word if for conditions. Use when (not where), if you need if to introduce

another clause or if the condition occurs regularly.

If an exception or condition is just a few words, and seeing it first will avoid misleading

users, put it at the beginning instead of the end. 56

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

Don’t say Say

With your grant application you must Unless you have already submitted an up-

submit a resume containing your to-date resume, you must submit a resume

undergraduate, graduate, and any containing your undergraduate, graduate,

other professional education, your and any other professional education,

work experience in the field of health your work experience in the field of health

care, and the name, and phone care, and the name, address and phone

number of current and previous number of current and previous

employers in the health care field, employers in the health care field.

unless you have already submitted

this information.

If an exception or condition is long and the main clause is short, put the main clause

first and then state the exception or condition.

Don’t say Say

We will schedule a hearing on your

Except when you submitted an identical application, except when you submitted

application for an education grant in

the previous year and you received full an identical application for an

or partial grant for that year’s program, education grant in the previous year and

we will schedule a hearing on your you received full or partial grant for that

year’s program.

application.

If a condition and the main clause are both long, foreshadow the condition and put it at

the end of the sentence. If there are several conditions, lead with “if” or a phrase such as

“in the following circumstances.” 57

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

Don’t say Say

If you, or an interested party, We may hold a hearing at the educational

requests that the hearing be held at institution where you plan to instruct

the educational institution where program participants if:

you plan to instruct program a. You, or an interested party, request the

participants, and the hearing room is location;

both handicapped-accessible and b. The hearing room is large enough for

large enough for at least 100 people, at least 100 people and handicapped-

we may, at our discretion, hold the accessible; and

hearing at that location, after c. We can give adequate public notice.

adequate public notice.

Use a list (like the example above) if your sentence contains multiple conditions or

exceptions. Here’s how the first example, above, could be rewritten.

Don’t say Say

With your grant application you Unless you have already submitted an up-

to-date resume, you must submit a resume

must submit a resume containing

your undergraduate, graduate, and containing:

any other professional education, Your undergraduate, graduate, and

your work experience in the field of any other professional education;

health care, and the name, and Your work experience in the field of

phone number of current and health care; and

previous employers in the health The name, address and phone number

care field, unless you have already of current and previous employers in

submitted this information. the health care field.

Use numbers or letters to designate items in a list if future reference or sequence is

important (for example, in a regulation). Otherwise, use bullets.

Make implied conditions explicit by using if. 58

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

Don’t say Say

A party must make advance If your exhibits are unusually bulky, you

arrangements with the hearing must make advance arrangements for

officer for the transportation and transporting them with the hearing.

receipt of exhibits of unusual bulk.

Avoid using an exception, if you can, by stating a rule or category directly rather than

describing that rule or category by stating its exceptions.

Don’t say Say

All persons except those 18 years or Each person under 18 years of age must<

older must<

But use an exception if it avoids a long and cumbersome list or elaborate description.

Don’t say Say

Alabama, Alaska,< and Wyoming Each state except Texas, New Mexico, and

(a list of 47 states) must Arizona must<

Sources

Charrow, Veda R., Erhardt, Myra K. and Charrow, Robert P. Clear & Effective Legal Writing, 4 th

edition, 2007, Aspen Publishers, New York, NY, pp. 166-167.

Garner, Bryan A., Guidelines for Drafting and Editing Court Rules, 1996, Administrative Office of the

US Courts, Washington, DC, pp. 5-9.

Office of the Federal Register, Drafting Legal Documents, 1998, § 7. www.archives.gov/federal-

register/write/legal-docs/

Wydick, Richard, Plain English for Lawyers, 5 edition, 2005, Carolina Academic Press, Durham,

th

NC, pp. 46-47. 59

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

5. Place words carefully

Sloppy word placement can cause ambiguity. To reduce ambiguity:

Keep subjects and objects close to their verbs.

Put conditionals such as “only” or “always” and other modifiers next to the

words they modify. Write “you are required to provide only the following,” not

“you are only required to provide the following.”

Put long conditions after the main clause. Write “complete form 9-123 if you own

more than 50 acres and cultivate grapes,” not “if you own more than 50 acres and

cultivate grapes, complete form 9-123.”

In the left column below, it’s difficult to figure out which words relate to the forest

products, which to the tribe, and which to the payments. The right column eliminates

this problem by dividing the material into shorter sentences and pulling together the

words about each provision.

Confusing word placement Clearer construction

Upon the request of an Indian tribe, the If a tribe (you) asks us, we will require

Secretary may provide that the purchaser purchasers of your forest products to

of the forest products of such tribe, deposit their payment into an account

which are harvested under a timber sale that you designate.

contract, permit, or other harvest sale a. You can instruct us to deposit

document, make advance deposits, or advance payments as well as direct

direct payments of the gross proceeds of payments into the account.

such forest products, less any amounts b. We will withhold from the deposit

segregated as forest management any forest management deductions

deductions pursuant to section 163.25, under section 163.25.

into accounts designated by such Indian

tribe.

You will eliminate many potential sources of ambiguity by writing shorter sentences.

The less complex the sentence, the clearer the meaning and less chance that ambiguity

will creep in. Still, you must watch how you place words even in short sentences. In the

example below, the audience may have to read the original statement several times to

realize that we don’t mean, “If you really want to have a disability <” 60

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

Ambiguous construction Clearer construction

If you are determined to have a If we determine that you have a

disability, we will pay you the disability, we will pay you the

following: following:

Sources

Garner, Bryan A., Garner’s Modern American Usage, 2003, Oxford University Press, Oxford and

New York, pp. 566-567. 61

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

c. Paragraphs

Write short paragraphs and include only one topic in each paragraph. 62

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

1. Have a topic sentence

If you tell your readers what they’re going to read about, they’re less likely to have to

read your paragraph again. Headings help, but they’re not enough. Establish a context

for your audience before you provide them with the details. If you flood readers with

details first, they become impatient and may resist hearing your message. A good topic

sentence draws the audience into your paragraph.

We often write the way we think, putting our premises first and then our conclusion. It

may be the natural way to develop our thoughts, but we wind up with the topic

sentence at the end of the paragraph. Move it up front and let users know where you’re

going. Don’t make readers hold a lot of information in their heads before they get to

your point.

Also, busy readers want to skim your document, stopping only for what they want or

need to know. You can help them by giving each paragraph a good introduction.

Readers should be able to get good general understanding of your document by

skimming your topic sentences.

A side benefit of good topic sentences (and good headings) is that they help you see if

your document is well-organized. If it isn’t, topic sentences make it easier for you to

rearrange your material.

Sources

Garner, Bryan A., Legal Writing in Plain English, 2001, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp.

65-66. 63

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

2. Use transition words

A topic sentence may provide a transition from one paragraph to another. But a

transition word or phrase (usually in the topic sentence) clearly tells the audience

whether the paragraph expands on the paragraph before, contrasts with it, or takes a

completely different direction.

Bryan Garner (2001) divides transition words into three types:

Pointing words: words like this, that, these, those, and the.

Pointing words – especially this and that — refer directly to something already

mentioned. They point to an antecedent. If your preceding paragraph describes the

process of strip mining, and your next paragraph begins with “this process causes<,”

the word this makes a clear connection between paragraphs.

Echo links: words or phrases echo a previously mentioned idea.

Echo links often work together with pointing words. In the example above, you’ve just

written a paragraph about how strip mining removes the top surface of the land to get

at the coal under it. If you then begin the next paragraph with “this scarring of the

earth,” the words “scarring of the earth” are an echo of the mining process described in

the previous paragraph.

Explicit connectives: words whose chief purpose is to supply transitions (such as

further, also, therefore).

Explicit connectives between sentences and paragraphs can be overdone, but more

often we simply overlook using them. Being too familiar with our own material, we

think they aren’t needed. Readers, on the other hand, find them helpful in following our

train of thought. Here are some examples from Bryan Garner.

When adding a point: also, and, in addition, besides, what is more, similarly,

further

When giving an example: for instance, for example, for one thing, for another

thing

When restating: in other words, that is, in short, put differently, again 64

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

When introducing a result: so, as a result, thus, therefore, accordingly, then

When contrasting: but, however, on the other hand, still, nevertheless,

conversely

When summing up: to summarize, to sum up, to conclude, in conclusion, in short

When sequencing ideas: First,<Second,<Third,<Finally,<

Sources

Garner, Bryan A., Legal Writing in Plain English, 2001, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp.

67-71. 65

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

3. Write short paragraphs

Long paragraphs discourage your audience from even trying to understand your

material. Short paragraphs are easier to read and understand. Writing experts

recommend paragraphs of no more than 150 words in three to eight sentences.

Paragraphs should never be longer than 250 words. Vary the lengths of your

paragraphs to make them more interesting. As with sentence length, if all paragraphs

are the same size your writing will be choppy.

There is nothing wrong with an occasional one-sentence paragraph.

Using short paragraphs is an ideal way to open up your document and create more

white space. In turn, this makes your writing more inviting and easier to read. It also

gives you the opportunity to add more headings.

Long, dense paragraph Material divided into four paragraphs

Flu Medication Flu Medication for Government

A specific vaccine for humans that is Employees

effective in preventing avian influenza A specific vaccine for humans effective in

is not yet readily available. Based preventing avian influenza is not yet

upon limited data, the CDC has readily available. Based on limited data,

suggested that the anti-viral the CDC suggested that the anti-viral

medication Oseltamivir (brand name- medication Oseltamivir (brand name-

Tamiflu) may be effective in treating Tamiflu) may be effective in treating avian

avian influenza. Using this input, the influenza. Using this input, the

Department of State has decided to Department of State decided to pre-

pre-position the drug Tamiflu at its position the drug Tamiflu at its Embassies

Embassies and Consulates worldwide, and Consulates worldwide, for eligible

for eligible U.S. Government U.S. Government employees and their

employees and their families serving families serving abroad who become ill

abroad who become ill with avian with avian influenza.

influenza. We emphasize that this Flu Medication for Private Citizens

medication cannot be made available We emphasize that we can’t make this

to private U.S. citizens abroad. medication available to private U.S.

Because of this, and because Tamiflu citizens abroad. Because of this, and

may not be readily available overseas, because Tamiflu may not be readily

the State Department encourages available overseas, the State Department

American citizens traveling or living 66

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

Long, dense paragraph Material divided into four paragraphs

abroad to consult with their private encourages American citizens traveling or

physician about whether to obtain living abroad to consult with their private

Tamiflu prior to travel, for use in the physician about whether to get Tamiflu

event treatment becomes necessary, or before they travel, whether to use if

whether Tamiflu is readily available in treatment becomes necessary, or if Tamiflu

the country where they reside. is readily available in the country where

Americans should also be aware of the they live.

potential health risk posed by Counterfeit Drug Warning

counterfeit drugs, including those Americans should also be aware of the

represented as Tamiflu, by internet potential health risk posed by counterfeit

scam artists or in countries with lax drugs, including those represented as

regulations governing the production Tamiflu, by internet scam artists or in

and distribution of pharmaceuticals. countries with lax regulations governing

In addition, the Department of State the production and distribution of

has asked its embassies and consulates pharmaceuticals.

to consider preparedness measures

that take into consideration the fact Additional Precautions

that travel into or out of a country In addition, the Department of State has

may not be possible, safe or medically asked its embassies and consulates to

advisable. Guidance on how private consider preparedness measures that

citizens can prepare for a “stay in consider that travel into or out of a

place” response, including stockpiling country may not be possible, safe or

food, water, and medical supplies, is medically advisable. Guidance on how

available on the CDC and private citizens can prepare for a “stay in

pandemicflu.gov websites. place” response, including stockpiling

food, water, and medical supplies, is

available on the CDC and

pandemicflu.gov websites.

In addition to breaking material into more, shorter, paragraphs, consider using a

heading for each paragraph, as we did in this example.

See also Cover only one topic in each paragraph.

Sources

Garner, Bryan A., Legal Writing in Plain English, 2001, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp.

72-73.

Murawski, Thomas A., Writing Readable Regulations, 1999, Carolina Academic Press Durham, NC,

pp. 24-25. 67

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

4. Cover only one topic in each paragraph

Limit each paragraph or section to one topic to make it easier for your audience to

understand your information. Each paragraph should start with a topic sentence that

captures the essence of everything in the paragraph.

Don’t say Say

a. Notice of a bid advertisement a. Thirty days before the sale, we will

shall be published in at least publish a notice advertising bids. The

one local newspaper and in one notice will be in at least one local

trade publication at least 30 newspaper and in one trade publication. It

days in advance of sale. If will identify any reservation where the

applicable, the notice must tracts to be leased are located.

identify the reservation within b. We will share information about this

which the tracts to be leased are process in two other ways. We will mail

found. Specific descriptions of the advertisement to each person on the

the tracts shall be available at appropriate agency mailing list. We will

the office of the superintendent. also provide specific descriptions of the

The complete text of the tracts at the superintendent’s office.

advertisement shall be mailed

to each person listed on the

appropriate agency mailing list.

Putting each topic in a separate paragraph makes your information easier to digest.

68

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

d. Other aids to clarity

Examples help your readers understand your points. Break up lots of text with lists and

tables. Including an illustration can be more helpful than describing it. 69

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

1. Use examples

Examples help you clarify complex concepts, even in regulations. They are an ideal way

to help your readers. In spoken English, when you ask for clarification of something,

people often respond by giving you an example. Good examples can substitute for long

explanations. The more complex the concept you are writing about, the more you

should consider using an example. By giving your audience an example that’s relevant

to their situation, you help them relate to your document.

Avoid using the Latin abbreviations for “for example” (e.g.) and “that is” (i.e.). Few

people know what they mean, and they often confuse the two. Write out the lead-in to

your example: “for example” or “such as.”

The Internal Revenue Service makes extensive use of examples in its regulations

throughout 26 CFR Part 1, the regulations on income taxes. The Environmental

Protection Agency also uses examples in its regulations. Here’s one from 40 CFR Part

50, Appendix H – Interpretation of the 1-Hour Primary and Secondary National

Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone.

EPA example

Suppose a monitoring station records a valid daily maximum hourly average

ozone value for every day of the year during the past 3 years. At the end of each

year, the number of days with maximum hourly concentrations above 0.12 ppm is

determined and this number is averaged with the results of previous years. As

long as this average remains “less than or equal to 1,” the area is in compliance.

Sources

Murawski, Thomas A., Writing Readable Regulations, 1999, Carolina Academic Press Durham, NC,

pp. 45-46. 70

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

2. Use lists

Vertical lists highlight a series of requirements or other information in a visually clear

way. Use vertical lists to help your user focus on important material. Vertical lists:

Highlight levels of importance

Help the user understand the order in which things happen

Make it easy for the user to identify all necessary steps in a process

Add blank space for easy reading

Are an ideal way to present items, conditions, and exceptions

Don’t say Say

Each completed well drilling With your application for a drilling permit,

application must contain a detailed provide the following information:

statement including the following Depth of the well;

information: the depth of the well,

the casing and cementing program, Casing and cementing program;

the circulation media (mud, air,

foam, etc.), the expected depth and Circulation media (mud, air, form, etc);

thickness of fresh water zones, and Expected depth and thickness of fresh

well site layout and design. water zones; and

Well site layout and design. 71

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

Vertical lists are also helpful in clarifying the chronological order of steps in a process.

With these lists, consider numbering the items to suggest the order of steps.

Vertical list suggests the correct order of events

When a foreign student presents a completed Form I-20:

1. Enter the student’s admission number from Form 94;

2. Endorse all copies of the form;

3. Return a copy to the student; and

4. Send a copy to the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

However, you can over-use vertical lists. Remember to use them to highlight important

information, not to over-emphasize trivial matters. If you use bullets, use solid round or

square ones. Bullets are not the place to be overly creative. Large creative bullets with

strange shapes tend to distract the reader and may not display properly on some

computer systems.

Your lists will be easier to read if you:

Always use a lead-in sentence to explain your lists;

Indent your lead-in sentence from the left margin; and

Use left justification only – never center justification.

Don’t say Say

Classroom supplies: Classroom Supplies

A tablet When you come to class, you should bring the

A pen or pencil following —

The paperwork you sent A tablet

us when you first applied A pen or pencil

for class The paperwork you sent us when you first

applied for class.

In the example above, the lack of a lead-in sentence on the left makes it unclear who is

to bring the supplies. The lead-in sentence on the right clarifies who is responsible for

72

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

bringing supplies. Indenting the list under the lead in sentence makes it easier to see

how the information is chunked. Use parallel construction and make sure each of the

bullets in a list can make a complete sentence if combined with the lead-in sentence.

The following example is a list that is not parallel:

You must submit:

Your application,

Recommendation letter, and

Mail it express mail.

The bullet “Mail it express mail” does not work with the rest of the list. The other items

are nouns, but this is a verb. It isn’t something to submit. It’s a separate part of the

instructions.

Sources

Charrow, Veda R., Erhardt, Myra K. and Charrow, Robert P. Clear & Effective Legal Writing, 4 th

edition, 2007, Aspen Publishers, New York, NY, pp. 181-182.

Garner, Bryan A., Legal Writing in Plain English, 2001, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp.

100, 125.

Murawski, Thomas A., Writing Readable Regulations, 1999, Carolina Academic Press Durham, NC,

pp. 25, 81-84.

Securities and Exchange Commission, Plain English Handbook, 1998, Washington, DC, p. 34.

73

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

3. Use tables to make complex material

easier to understand

Tables help your audience see relationships that are often times hidden in dense text.

And for most readers, it’s not necessary to understand all possibilities and conditions,

only those that apply to the reader’s situation.

Probably the most useful type of table is the “if-then” table. An “if-then” table organizes

the material by a situation (if something is the case) and the consequence (then

something else happens). The rewritten regulation in the “if-then” table below is far

clearer than the dense text it replaces. It also makes the document appear less dense and

easier on the eye. Dense text from 25 CFR 163.25

§ 163.25 Forest management deductions.

a. Pursuant to the provisions of 25 U.S.C. 413 and 25 U.S.C. 3105, a forest

management deduction shall be withheld from the gross proceeds of sales of

Indian forest land as described in this section.

b. Gross proceeds shall mean the value in money or money’s worth of

consideration furnished by the purchaser of forest products purchased under a

contract, permit, or other document for the sale of forest products.

c. Forest management deductions shall not be withheld where the total

consideration furnished under a document for the sale of forest products is less

than $5,001.

d. Except as provided in § 163.25(e) of this part, the amount of the forest

deduction shall not exceed the lesser amount of ten percent (10%) of the gross

proceeds or, the actual percentage in effect on November 28, 1990.

e. The Secretary may increase the forest management deduction percentage for

Indian forest land upon receipt of a written request from a tribe supported by a

written resolution executed by the authorized tribal representatives. At the

request of the authorized tribal representatives and at the discretion of the

Secretary the forest management deduction percentage may be decreased to

not less than one percent (1%) or the requirement for collection may be waived.

74

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

If-then table

§ 163.25 Will BIA withhold any forest management deductions?

We will withhold a forest management deduction if the contract for the sale of forest

products has a value of over $5,000. The deduction will be a percentage of the price

we get from the buyer. The following table shows how we determine the amount of

the deduction. then the percentage of the

If … and … deduction is …

a tribe requests an increase they send us a the percentage requested by the tribe.

in the deduction through a written request

tribal resolution

an authorized tribal we approve the the percentage requested, with a one

representative requests a decrease percent minimum.

decrease in the deduction

an authorized tribal we approve the waived.

representative requests a waiver

waiver of the deduction

none of the above conditions the percentage in effect on November

applies 28, 1990, or 10 percent, whichever is

less.

You can use variations on the if-then table to clarify other types of complicated

provisions. Which of the following would you rather read?

Dense text from 25 CFR 163.17

§ 163.17 Deposit with bid.

(a)A deposit shall be made with each proposal for the purchase of Indian forest

products. Such deposits shall be at least:

(1) Ten (10) percent if the appraised stumpage value is less than $100,000 in

any event not less than $1,000 or full value whichever is less.

(2) Five (5) percent if the appraised stumpage value is $100,000 to $250,000

but in any event not less than $10,000; and

(3) Three (3) percent if the appraised stumpage value exceeds $250,000 but

it any event not less than $12,500. 75

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

If-then table

§ 163.17 Must I make a deposit with my bid?

You must include a deposit with your bid to buy Indian forest products, but the

amount of the deposit varies.

If the appraised you must deposit … and the minimum amount of

stumpage value is the deposit is …

less than $100,000 ten percent of the $1,000

stumpage value

between $100,000 and five percent of the $10,000

$250,000 stumpage value

over $250,000 three percent of the $12,500

stumpage value

If-then tables are powerful tools for simplifying complicated material. And tables

generally use many fewer words that a straight textual explanation would use.

Sources

Kimble, Joseph, Lifting the Fog of Legalese, 2006, Carolina Academic Press, Durham, NC, p. 70(B).

Murawski, Thomas A., Writing Readable Regulations, 1999, Carolina Academic Press Durham, NC,

pp. 39-44.

Office of the Federal Register, Document Drafting Handbook, 1998, MMR 4.

www.archives.gov/federal-register/write/handbook/.

Securities and Exchange Commission, Plain English Handbook, 1998, Washington, DC, pp. 49-52.

76

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

4. Consider using illustrations

While government pamphlets and similar items intended for the public usually include

many illustrations, illustrations rarely appear in letters or regulations. However, even in

these documents, you can use illustrations to good effect. Consider these examples from

regulations.

Federal Aviation Regulations in 14 CFR part 95 contain illustrations of mountainous

areas which are subject to special flight restrictions, such as this illustration of

mountainous areas of Alaska: 77

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

National Park Service regulations at 36 CFR part 7.96 includes pictures of areas in

Washington, DC, where activities are controlled, such as these drawings of the White

House and Lincoln Memorial: 78

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

14 CFR 1221.102 establishes the NASA Seal. 79

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

Appendix B to 40 CFR Part 50 illustrates the measurement principle and calibration

procedure for measuring carbon monoxide in the atmosphere. 80

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

50 CFR section 216.95 illustrates the official mark for “Dolphin-safe” tuna products.

81

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

5. Use emphasis to highlight important

concepts

Use bold and italics to make important concepts stand out. While it is difficult to use

these techniques in regulations, emphasis helps bring out important points in other

documents. Limit emphasis to important information, otherwise you’ll dilute its impact.

PUTTING EVERYTHING IN CAPITAL LETTERS IS NOT A GOOD EMPHASIS

TECHNIQUE. ALTHOUGH IT MAY DRAW THE USER’S ATTENTION TO THE

SECTION, IT MAKES IT HARDER TO READ. AND IN AN ELECTRONIC

ENVIRONMENT IT’S CONSIDERED SHOUTING. Similarly, underlining will draw the

user’s attention to the section, but it makes it hard to read. Besides, in an electronic

environment, people expect underlined text to be a link. It’s better to use bold and

italics for important issues. 82

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

6. Minimize cross-references

Nothing is more annoying than coming upon cross-references in reading material.

Cross-references frustrate any attempt to write clearly and simply. Most users consider

them a bother, and just skip over them. This can be a problem when the document is a

regulation. Numerous cross-references can confuse users and make them less attentive

to your message. They may also overtax your users’ short-term memory. Imagine the

work it would take a user to puzzle out just this one short section from our tax

regulations (26 CFR 1.1(h)-1).

Regulation with many confusing cross-references

“Section 1250 capital gain — (i) Definition. For purposes of this section, section 1250

capital gain means the capital gain (not otherwise treated as ordinary income) that

would be treated as ordinary income if section 1250(b)(1) included all depreciation

and the applicable percentage under section 1250(a) were 100 percent.”

On the other hand, repeating bulky material over and over can be equally annoying to

users. So there is a place for cross-references, but the challenge is to not overdo them.

How to minimize cross-references

There are several ways to deal with cross-references. The best is to organize your

material so you can eliminate the need for cross-references. Often, you are forced to

resort to a cross-reference because the material isn’t organized the way it should be, so

material that belongs together is instead found in distant sections. However, given the

complexity of some documents, it won’t be possible to eliminate them all. If a cross-

reference refers to brief material, just repeat that material and get rid of the cross-

reference. Sometimes, careful thought may reveal that you’ve included an unnecessary

cross-reference.

If the cross-reference is to lengthy material that, if included, would make the wording

long and complicated, you may have to refer users to another section. Typically, this

would include long descriptive material, such as a long list of items or a list of

requirements that you want to apply to a new situation. 83

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

Be sure that the reference you insert clearly describes the referenced material. That way,

users can decide if they need to read it to know how the rule affects them. Sometimes

just including the title of the referenced section is enough.

Let’s look at an example from the National Park Service.

A requirement with several cross references

Section 45. May I camp in a national park?

If you hold one of the vehicle entry passes listed in Section 18 for entry into a

national park, you may camp in that park. But you may not sleep in a tent if the

park has declared one of the animal danger levels described in paragraphs (c)

through (h) of Section 51, and the campsite is not covered by an animal emergency

plan as described in Section 52.

In this excerpt, the first cross-reference is to brief material, so you can just repeat it here.

The second cross-reference is to a long list of information; it’s probably clearest to keep

the cross-reference. The third cross-reference probably isn’t necessary — the camper

needs to know whether there is an animal emergency plan, but not the details of the

plan contained in Section 52. Following these principles, the final text could read:

Two of three cross-references eliminated

Section 45. May I camp in a national park?

If you hold a daily, weekly, or annual vehicle entry pass for a national park, you

may camp in that park. But you may not sleep in a tent if the park has declared one

of the animal danger levels described in paragraphs (c) through (h) of Section 51,

and the campsite is not covered by an animal emergency plan.

Another treatment

If you believe you must include cross-references, consider putting them at the end of

the text, like a reference, rather than in the middle. This is less disruptive to the user,

and less annoying. It gives users a chance to absorb your main message before your

references elaborate on it. As an example, if you need to keep the second and third

references in the national park example above, you might write it this way:

Cross-references at end of passage

Section 45. May I camp in a national park? 84

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

Cross-references at end of passage

If you hold a daily, weekly, or annual vehicle entry pass for a national park, you

may camp in that park. But you may not sleep in a tent if the park has declared an

animal danger level and the campsite is not covered by an animal emergency plan.

(See paragraphs (c) through (h) of Section 51 for animal danger levels.)

(See Section 52 for animal emergency plans.)

Referring to another agency’s regulations

If you want to require users to comply with certain requirements of another federal

agency, which they would not otherwise have to do, you have to meet the requirements

of the Office of the Federal Register (OFR). A federal agency may cross-reference the

regulations of another federal agency only if the OFR finds that the reference meets one

of the conditions specified in 1 CFR 21.21. You can find a discussion of these conditions

in the OFR’s Drafting Legal Documents under Cross References.

Referring to other material in regulations

A cross-reference to material that does not appear in the Federal Register or the Code of

Federal Regulations is called an “incorporation by reference” by the Office of the

Federal Register. The OFR has very specific rules that agencies must follow to do

incorporation by reference. You will find them in 1 CFR part 51 and Chapter 6 of the

OFR’s Document Drafting Handbook.

Avoid these situations

Multiple cross-references in one section. Multiple cross-references make your user’s

head spin, and you will fail to deliver any useful information. Reorganize your material

to eliminate the cross-references, or at least to keep them to no more than one in each

section.

Unnecessary cross-references put in to ensure that your users don’t miss something

that applies to them. You won’t know where to stop cross-referencing. You should

presume that users will familiarize themselves with your document to see what applies

to them. Make sure your table of contents and headings are informative enough that

users can find everything they need. 85

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

Cross-referencing definitions. Adding a cross-reference to a definition for the

convenience of the audience may create a problem if you don’t continue to repeat it

every time you use the word.

If you say Then you can’t later just say

a corporation as defined in Section 1 (when a corporation (some users may think

Section 1 clearly applies to your regulation the 50-employee limit doesn’t apply

and defines a corporation as having, for here.)

example, at least 50 employees)

The “boomerang.” Rudolf Flesch (1979) named this particularly insidious cross-

reference. It’s a reference that refers to the section it’s found in. It sends users on a futile

hunt for another section of the same number, until they finally realize you are referring

to the same section they were reading in the first place. If you mean “listed in

paragraph (h) of this section” say it that way. The Office of the Federal Register’s

Document Drafting Handbook tells you the proper way to refer to something in the same

section of a regulation.

The “all-inclusive” cross-reference. It’s no help to your audience to say something like

“As a permittee, you must comply with sections 542.6 and 543.10, and all other

applicable laws and regulations.” What exactly does the term “all other applicable laws

and regulations” cover? Do you expect your reader to become a legal scholar and go out

and research the answer to that question? This form of cross-reference reflects a lazy

writer. And it’s not likely to achieve much.

The never-ending story cross reference. This is the cross-reference that refers the

reader to another section containing another cross-reference, which takes the reader to

yet another section containing another cross-reference, and so on forever and ever. If

you can’t follow the web of references, why do you think your audience will?

Final thoughts

Whether you use a cross-reference or repeat the material in the new location, you must

remember to update the information if something in the cross-referenced material

changes.

There is no hard and fast rule about when it’s reasonable to use a cross-reference. It

depends on the purpose of the cross reference and the bulk of the material referenced.

The bottom line is that you should minimize them to the extent possible. 86

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

Sources

Flesch, Rudolf, How to Write in Plain English, A Book for Lawyers and Consumers, 1979, Harper and

Rowe, New York, pp. 82-93.

Office of the Federal Register, Document Drafting Handbook, 1998, 1-15.

www.archives.gov/federal-register/write/handbook/ddh.pdf. 87

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

7. Design your document for easy reading

We want our documents to help the audience get information, comply with

requirements, and apply for benefits with the minimum possible burden. Documents

that appear cluttered and dense create a negative reaction in the minds of our readers.

We’ve heard many times from readers that when they get a dense, uninviting document

from the government, they often put it in the “to be read later” pile, even though they

know they should read it right away.

Document design is an important part of developing an effective document. Documents

that are easy on the eye are far easier to understand than more traditional styles. You

can use design elements to highlight important points and to ensure your user reads the

most important parts of the document.

Even with regulations and the limits of publishing in the Code of Federal Regulations,

you can replace blocks of text with headings, tables, and lists to create more white

space. Short sentences and sections will also break up a regulation into visually

manageable chunks. You will help your audience by making the main points readily

apparent and grouping related items together. The easier it is for your audience to get

through the regulation, the more likely it is they will comply with its requirements.

Here are a few brief guidelines for good document design:

Have five or six sections on each printed page (about two on each typewritten

page)

Use lists and tables often, but don’t overuse them and don’t have lists within lists

Use ragged right margins where possible, rather than fully justifying your text

Sources

Schriver, Karen, Dynamics in Document Design: Creating Text for Readers, 1996, John Wiley and

Sons, Hoboken, NJ. 88

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

IV. Write for the web

This section refers to the audience as users since that is a more common term in the web

community. To effectively communicate with your web users, you must use plain-

language techniques to write web content. This section will explain the differences

between print and web writing and how to create sites that work for your users. 89

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010

a. How do people use the web?

People use the internet to easily find, understand, and use information to complete a

task. Unlike print media, people do not read entire web pages. They scan instead.

Nielsen and Morkes, in a famous 1997 study, found that 79 percent of their test users

always scanned any new page they came across; only 16 percent read word-by-word.

Even with more people using the web, the percent of content that is read on a website

has not increased by much. Here are some facts to consider when writing web content:

In a 2008 study, based on analysis of 45,237 page views, Nielsen found that web

users only read about 18% of what’s one page.

As the number of words on a page goes up, the percentage read goes down.

To get people to read half your words, you must limit your page to 110 words or

fewer.

What do web users look at?

Since we know web users scan web pages, we need to learn what they look at.

Users often scan pages in an F pattern focusing on the top left side of the page,

headings, and the first few words of a sentence or bulleted list. On average, users only

read the first two words on each line. Also, users can decide in as little as five seconds

whether your site is useful to them. 90

Federal Plain Language Guidelines, December 2010


PAGINE

117

PESO

1.59 MB

AUTORE

Atreyu

PUBBLICATO

+1 anno fa


DETTAGLI
Corso di laurea: Corso di laurea magistrale in relazioni internazionali
SSD:
A.A.: 2011-2012

I contenuti di questa pagina costituiscono rielaborazioni personali del Publisher Atreyu di informazioni apprese con la frequenza delle lezioni di Lingua Inglese c.a. e studio autonomo di eventuali libri di riferimento in preparazione dell'esame finale o della tesi. Non devono intendersi come materiale ufficiale dell'università La Sapienza - Uniroma1 o del prof Cipri Manuela.

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Altri appunti di Lingua inglese c.a.

Inglese - How to write clearly
Appunto