Say "shall" if you must: U.S. government jargon lives on

Thu Apr 12, 2012 6:11pm EDT
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By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A movement in Washington to make government notices to average people easier to read - no more "pursuant to" or "heretofore" - could soon be expanded to other parts of the federal bureaucracy.

But there's just one problem with the latest legislative proposal, plain language advocates say.

It uses the word "shall."

"Shall" is on the no-no list drafted by advocates like retired federal worker Annetta Cheek, who has spent the better part of her 25-year career promoting simpler writing among her peers.

"We like 'must' because it's clear. 'Shall' is ambiguous," she said, referring to the proposal from Democratic Congressman Bruce Braley that would expand the plain language initiative.

Just like its predecessor, the Plain Writing Act of 2010, Braley's measure wants to expand simple writing beyond government letters and brochures and make it part of crafting regulations.

His proposal, however, shows how hard that can be.

"It's engrained, it's entrenched in the offices of the folks who draft federal legislation," Cheek explained. "So even though the bills are fairly streamlined as federal bills go and are pretty clear, we are still stuck with 'shall.'"   Continued...