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‘Readable regulations help the public find requirements quickly and understand them easily.They increase compliance, strengthen enforcement, and decrease mistakes, frustration, phone calls, appeals, and distrust of government. Everyone gains.’
– US Federal Register Document Drafting Handbook
Making Regulations Readable
Regulations need to be accurate, clear and precise. However, the law is rarely simple. We’re frequently faced with laws that are complex, packed with qualifications and conditions and full of arcane language.
Writing clear regulations isn’t easy. To do it successfully, you have to take a fresh look at the way you approach the task. This may mean unlearning what you’ve picked up over the years about how “official” writing looks. It means putting yourself in your readers’ place and questioning how well you’ve structured and written the regulation to meet their needs.
Here are some suggestions to help you redraft your regulations into good, readable language that readers can understand.
Get the Structure Right
- Summarize the regulation’s purpose.
- State whom the regulation affects.
- Organize your information.
- Order your information logically and to suit your readers – not yourself.
- Make your headings do something for the readers.
- Keep your paragraphs under control.
Keep Related Information Together
- Keep cross-references to a minimum.
- Avoid signpost language (sending your reader to different parts of the document)
Keep to Plain Language
- Avoid legal words and phrases.
- Avoid foreign words and obscure terms.
- Use active verbs.
- Use plain words.
- Use concrete words and examples.
- Keep it Strong.
- Use command verbs.
- Use the present tense.
- Avoid shall.
Keep Your Sentences Under Control
- Cut long sentences.
- Use topic sentences.
- Use normal punctuation.
- Use bullet points and numbering to break up long sentences or paragraphs.
- Cut out wordy phrases.
Make it Personal
- Use personal pronouns such as you, we, your, our.
- Make your structure reflect the readers’ needs – not yours.
- Imagine a typical reader trying to understand your wording.
- Use questions as headings such as: How does this affect me?
- Keep it Plain
- Keep to the principles of plain English.
- Test your draft on a non-legal audience to make sure they understand it.
- Don’t let another lawyer redraft your clear style into legalese.
StyleWriter will help you to write in plain English, but you must commit yourself to clear writing. It’s not always easy to explain complex ideas simply but if you do, you will save many people time, money and frustration.