Use pronouns to speak directly to your reader
Pronouns help the audience picture themselves in the text and relate better to your documents. More than any other single technique, using "you" pulls users into your document and makes it relevant to them. When you use "you" to address users, they are more likely to understand what their responsibility is. Using "we" to refer to your agency makes your agency more approachable. It also makes your sentences shorter and your document easier to read.
|Copies of tax returns must be provided.||You must provide copies of your tax returns.|
Writing for an individual forces you to analyze carefully what you want the reader to do. By writing to an individual, you will find it easier to:
- Put information in a logical order
- Answer questions and provide the information that your reader wants to know
- Assign responsibilities and requirements clearly
Be sure to define “you” clearly.
|Facilities in regional and district offices are available to the public during normal business hours for requesting copies of agency records.||If you are a private citizen, you can get copies of our records at any regional or district office …|
Define “you” by any of the following methods:
- State in the beginning of the document who the audience is—“This regulation tells you, the loan applicant, how to secure a loan.”
- Define “you” in the Definitions section—“You” means a loan applicant.
- Where you address different readers in different parts of the document, define “you” in each context— “How do different types of borrowers apply for a loan? If you are a small business, you must submit … If you are an individual, you must submit …”
It’s especially important to define “you” when writing to multiple audiences.
|Lessees and operators are responsible for restoring the site. You must ensure that …||Lessees and operators are responsible for restoring the site. If you are the lessee, you must monitor the operator to ensure that. If you are the operator, you must conduct all operations in a way …|
If you use a question-and-answer format, you should assume that the user is the one asking the questions. Use "I" in the questions to refer to the user. Use "we" in the responses to represent your agency.
|Submission of applications.||How do I apply?|
By using "we" to respond to questions, you state clearly what your agency requires and what your agency's responsibilities are. You also avoid the passive voice and use fewer words. You can define "we" in the definitions sections of your document if that will help the user.
|Loan applications will be reviewed to ensure that procedures have been followed.||We review your loan application to ensure that you followed our procedures.|
|The Office of Consumer Affairs will process your application within 30 days after receipt.||We’ll process your application within 30 days of receiving it.|
Make sure you use pronouns that clearly refer to a specific noun. If a pronoun could refer to more than one person or object in a sentence, repeat the name of the person or object or rewrite the sentence.
|After the Administrator appoints an Assistant Administrator, he or she must …||After the Administrator appoints an Assistant Administrator, the Assistant Administrator must …|
- Garner, Bryan A., A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage, 2nd edition, 1995, Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York, p. 643.
- Garner, Bryan A., Legal Writing in Plain English, 2001, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, p. 50.
- Murawski, Thomas A., Writing Readable Regulations, 1999, Carolina Academic Press Durham, NC, pp. 33-38.
- Securities and Exchange Commission, Plain English Handbook, 1998, Washington, DC, p. 22.
- Wydick, Richard, Plain English for Lawyers, 5th edition, 2005, Carolina Academic Press, Durham, NC.