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.
§ 163.25 Forest management deductions.
§ 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.
|If …||and …||then the percentage of the deduction is …|
|a tribe requests an increase in the deduction through a tribal resolution||they send us a written request||the percentage requested by the tribe.|
|an authorized tribal representative requests a decrease in the deduction||we approve the decrease||the percentage requested, with a one percent minimum.|
|an authorized tribal representative requests a waiver of the deduction||we approve the waiver||waived.|
|none of the above conditions apply||the percentage in effect on November 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?
§ 163.17 Deposit with bid.
§ 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 stumpage value is …||you must deposit …||and the minimum amount of the deposit is …|
|less than $100,000||ten percent of the stumpage value||$1,000|
|between $100,000 and $250,000||five percent of the stumpage value||$10,000|
|over $250,000||three percent of the stumpage value||$12,500|
If-then tables are powerful tools for simplifying complicated material. And tables generally use many fewer words that a straight textual explanation would use.
- 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/ddh.pdf.
- Securities and Exchange Commission, Plain English Handbook, 1998, Washington, DC, pp. 49-52.