Nine Rules for Drafting Text or Revising It Into Plain English
Click any rule for examples
Draft in Singular Number
Use Base Verbs, Not Nominalizations
Prefer the Active Voice Over the Passive
Draft in Present Tense and First Person
Use Shorter Sentences. Omit Surplus Words
Arrange Your Words With Care
Avoid Multiple Negatives
Avoid Simplifiable Jargon
Avoid "Wh" Phrases
For credits and other information, click here.







Draft in Singular Number
Example: Instead of writing "when issues not raised by the pleadings are tried" try this "when an issue not raised by the pleading is tried."
Rationale: For clarity unless the noun is undeniably plural




Use Base Verbs, Not Nominalizations
Example: instead of writing "We had a discussion about the matter" try this instead "We discussed the matter."
Rationale: Use of nominalizations makes writing heavy, dull and difficult to process. It makes the noun more abstract and turns it into a process or emotion giving the appearance that nothing is actually happening in the sentence.




Prefer the Active Voice Over the Passive
Example: Costs must be taxed by the clerk. --> The clerk must tax costs.
Rationale: To avoid using extra words such as "was" and "by" that make sentences clumsy. Passive voice minimizes the role of the agent (subject).






Draft in Present tense and First person
Example: No additional fees will be required. --> No additional fee is required.
Example: Applicants must send us ... . --> You must send ... .
Rationale: Draws the listener into the text.






Use Shorter Sentences. Omit Surplus Words
Example: Sentence shall be imposed without unnecessary delay, but the court may, when there is a factor important to the sentencing determination that is not then capable of being resolved, postpone the imposition of sentence for a reasonable time until the factor is capable of being resolved. --> Sentence must be imposed without unnecessary delay. But if some factor important to sentencing cannot be resolved promptly, the court may postpone sentencing for a reasonable time until that factor becomes resolvable.
Example: The fact that she died ... . --> Her death ... .
He was aware of the fact that ... . --> He knew ... .
Rationale: Promotes clarity by encouraging one thought per sentence and eliminating wordiness.






Arrange your words with care
Example 1: In the interest of expediting decision, or for other good causes shown, a court of appeals may, except as otherwise provided in Rule 26b, suspend the requirements or provisions of any of these rules in a particular case on application of a party or on its own motion. --> On its own motion or a party's motion, a court of appeals may-to expedite its decision or for the other good cause-suspend the provisions of any of these rules in a particular case, except as otherwise provided in Rule 26b
Example 2: A party must make advance arrangements with the clerk for the transportation and receipt of exhibits of unusual bulk or weight. -->If the exhibits are unusually bulky or heavy, the party must arrange with the clerk in advance for their transportation and receipt.
Rationale: Enhances clarity, logic, and readability. Numbering and listing is helpful.






Avoid Simplifiable Jargon
Examples: A judgment for a sum of money ... . --> A money judgment ... .
Each court of appeals by action of a majority of the circuit judges ... . --> Each court of appeals acting by a majority of its judges in regular active service may ... .
Upon receipt of ... . --> Upon receiving ... .
Rationale: Only those in the legal profession understand Legalese. Use the simplest words that fit the situation.






Avoid "Wh" Phrases
Example: Any such motion which is filed ... . --> Any such motion that is filed ... .
Rationale: "Wh" phrases such as "which is" adds to the listener's processing time.






Credits and other information
This web page is based on
Julie Damron's writing, modified to be web-compatible. If you'd like to see what she wrote originally, click WordPerfect or PDF. Professor Damron wrote because of an assignment she received as a member of the Utah Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Plain English Criminal Jury Instructions. This website belongs to the committee chair, Judge David L. Mower, who made the aforementioned modifications.

last modified 030814