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Before You Draft, Identify Your Audience

Often an agency's rules are perfectly clear to staff members in that agency but confusing to others. To avoid this problem, aim your draft at its most appropriate audience outside state government. If your rules regulate migrant labor and order recruiters and employers to put workers' terms in writing, then employers, recruiters, and workers are your audience, part of it an audience with limited education. On the other hand, if you are drafting rules regulating securities sales, then brokers and bankers are your audience, and your rules will have to use the technical vocabulary of their trade. Rules addressed to people in general - for example, rules prohibiting dumping in state parks - must aim at people of average intelligence and average education.

Writing for a less knowledgeable audience means that you must work hard at keeping sentences short and eliminating or defining difficult words. For sophisticated readers you may be able to be briefer; you can pack information into specialized words. For other readers your material must spell out more information. Identifying your audience will also help you to think about the questions that audience will ask about the rules, questions that will help decide the form of your headnotes, and the organization of your material.

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Keep the Rule Title Short, But Make it Communicate

The title that is printed on the revisor's certificate is the title that will identify the rules in the State Register. Because it will be printed in large, bold type with headline-style capitalization, it should be kept as short as possible for easy reading. Include only as much as is necessary to let the public know what the rules are about.

Some words are required in your title: the public has to know whether the rules are proposed or adopted, permanent or exempt. The words "relating to" a re not required. You can use a shorter form such as for or on. A colon might be enough.

The challenge is in the words that follow. If the drafter writes a brief title like "Proposed Permanent Rules on Preadmission Screening," will the readers know who is to be screened and to what they will be admitted? A complete explanation, however, would be too long. A reasonable compromise might be "Proposed Permanent Rules on Preadmission Screening for Nursing Homes and Community Services."

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Make Your Organization Clear to Readers

It does not matter what order you follow in drafting the provisions of your rules. You can develop an overall outline after you have done your research, or you can draft the key provisions first and fill in the details later. As long as you stay in touch with everyone concerned with the rules and are willing to change your draft as new ideas develop, any method will work. What matters is the way the rule looks on the page. The key question is: Can readers find what they need to know?

They will be able to find what they need if your headnotes show a pattern of organization. Put definitions first and basic provisions before special cases, but for everything else you're free to use one of several patterns.

Try chronological order first. This works especially well in rules that describe procedures. For example, a section-regulating employers' treatment of migrant workers might tell what employers must do at several stages of the work season:

Using chronological order may mean preferring one audience to another. For example, rules governing prisons affect not only prisoners but prison workers who must comply with the rules and agency workers who have to check compliance. There is no particular order to obeying these rules. It might be best to decide on a convenient order for inspection and to order rules that way. If food service, health equipment, and sanitation will be checked together, rules governing them should be next to one another.

Not all-chronological order is this easily determined. It may take some discussion within a staff to decide what the order of parts should be.

Laws and rules are generally used as reference documents, not read from beginning to end. Quick reference depends not only on the index but on headnotes and on tables of contents. Tables of contents are compiled by the revisor's office, using the part headnotes. Extra headings can be added to identify the subject of a range of parts. When you write part headnotes, ask yourself first how they will look as a table of contents and whether or not they will show the reader your method of organization. Pay special attention to subpart headnotes; they are the reader's only guides within a part. You may decide to change the order of your parts on the basis of the looks of your headnotes.

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Avoid Some Common Headnote Problems

The revisor's office will change headnotes that don't accurately describe the contents of your rules. To make sure your headnotes guide readers, avoid some common headnote faults:

1. Remember that headnotes are guidewords only and are not part of the rules. The reader must be able to make sense of the rules without them. For example, don't write:


Subpart 1. Registering for inactive status. Completion of an approved physician assistant training program and certification by the National Commission of Physician Assistants.



Subpart 1. Registering for inactive status. To be registered for inactive status as a physician assistant, an applicant must have completed an approved physician assistant training program and be certified by the National Commission of Physician Assistants.

2. Prefer -ing to -ion. If your rules explain a procedure, use a verb in your headnotes. Instead of writing "Tax-forfeited Lands; Acquisition," write "Acquiring Tax-forfeited Lands."

3. Don't depend too much on the context to complete a headnote's meaning. In subpart headnotes you can control context somewhat, but you have no idea what other headnotes will be near your part headnote, so be very specific. Don't write "Who may use," or "Must be displayed." Instead, write, "Who may use county law libraries," or "Displaying licenses."

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Try Organizing a Draft for Several Audiences

If the rule affects several audiences, you can write a separate part for each audience. This saves readers from having to read through long paragraphs to find the parts that apply to them.

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Keep Parts and Subparts Short

The more material you place in a single block of text, the harder it is for readers to find the provisions they are interested in. Long, solid blocks of text also make it difficult to keep one's place in reading. To make reading easier, try to limit the length of subparts to two-thirds of a page as produced by the revisor's printer. If a part runs to several pages, break it up into several smaller parts.

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Take Care with Definitions

Write your definitions after you have written the body of the rule. Check the chapter-wide definitions in the chapter where you want the rules to appear; if the terms in your draft are defined there, you can refer to the definitions and need not define the items again. Also check Minnesota Statutes as you review your draft to see which terms need defining. Make sure you have not varied your terms or created needless jargon, buzzwords, noun strings, or initials. (These problems are discussed elsewhere in this chapter.) If you find these things, revise. A clearly written draft will need few definitions.

Here is a checklist for definition use:

1. Introduce definitions with a standard sentence: "The terms used in parts ______ to ______ have the meanings given them in this part." Use have, not shall have.

2. Make each term a separate subpart. Start with the subpart number; write the term you're defining as a headnote. Start the sentence with the term you're defining, in quotation marks:

Subp. 4. Engineer. "Engineer" means...

The next word will usually be means, includes, or refers to, depending on what follows. These words are singular, even when you're defining a plural term. Make them plural only if you're defining two words at once. Use only one term. Don't say "means and includes."

3. The form of the definition should be the same part of speech as the word being defined. The definition of a verb should be in the same verb form; the definition of an adjective should be an adjective or a participle, etc. For example, don't write: "‘Reasonable access’ means no more than 12 miles distant from the transportation system." Instead, write: "‘Reasonable access’ (noun) means a distance (n oun) of not more than 12 miles from the transportation system." Or write: "‘To h ave reasonable access’ means to be no more than 12 miles from the transportation system."

When it isn't possible to use a grammatical equivalent in a definition, use refers to instead of means. Example: "‘Settle’ and ‘settlement’ refe refer to the consideration, adjustment, determination, and disposition of a claim..."

Sometimes you can use something other than means, includes, or refers to. For example, you can write: "‘Should’ is used in a directory sense."

4. Don't do violence to the ordinary meaning of words. Don't write "‘Hospitals’ in cludes day care centers." The reader is not likely to look up the word "hospitals" and so may never learn that it includes other things. Use the included terms in the body of the rule.

5. Don't define terms needlessly. English words used in their ordinary senses don't need definitions. "Temporary sign" does not need the explanation that it is a sign intended to be displayed for a short time.

6. Watch your sense of categories as well as your grammar. For example, don't write: "‘Senility’ means an individual with a physical disability and mental we weakness brought on by old age." Senility is a condition, not a person. Write "‘Senility’ means a physical l disability and mental weakness brought on by old age."

7. Try not to define words in terms of other words also being defined. This rule is sometimes impossible to keep; it may call for too much repetition. But remember that most readers will not read your work from beginning to end. They will not want to be forced to look up a second definition in order to understand the first.

8. Don't write substantive requirements into your definitions. Here is an example of a definition that is too substantive: "‘Lockup facility’ means a secure adult detention facility used to confine prisoners waiting to appear in court and sentenced prisoners for not more than 90 days. In addition to the cell, a lockup facility must include space for moderate exercise and activity, such as weight lifting, ping-pong, table games, reading, television, and cards." This definition should end at "90 days."

9. Alphabetize your definitions word by word. Treat strings of initials as single words. Example: Efficiency, EIS, and EPA. Of course, it's better not to use the initials, but if you must use them, make their meanings easy to find: alphabetize under the abbreviation, not the expanded form. A reader who is trying to learn what LPG means should not be forced to look through all the L's to find "Liquefied petroleum gas."

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Don't Duplicate Statutory Language

"Duplication of statutory language" means an exact duplication of language from Minnesota Statutes or a restatement of the language in other words. Duplicated statutory language does not meet the definition of a rule in Minnesota Statutes, chapter 14, so rule drafters should avoid duplicating statutory language unless it is necessary for a clear understanding of the rule.

When your rule draft is closely tied to certain statutes, you may be tempted to reproduce the wording of the statute in your rule draft. But duplication can cause problems if the statute is later amended or repealed. Paraphrasing causes trouble, too, because the two versions could be construed differently. To avoid problems, refer to the statutory language instead of reproducing it. (See text on the use of cross-references.) Use the words of the statute only if they are crucial to the reader's ability to understand the rules.

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Don't Vary Your Terms

Throughout your draft, use one term consistently to mean one thing. This rule seems easy to follow, but the following definition shows how thoroughly it can be broken:

...Unless the context clearly indicates a different meaning, "warehouse" may be used interchangeably with "elevator," "storage house," or "facility."

The same problem, alternating systems and supplies, appears in the following paragraph:

Community water supplies which serve a population of 10,000 or more individuals shall analyze for total trihalomethanes in accordance with this part. Community water systems serving 75,000 or more individuals shall begin sampling and analysis not later than January 1, 1982.

Drafters make variations like these unconsciously. Variations often show up near the beginnings of sentences, which usually don't deliver new information and so get less of drafters' attention. To keep from varying your terms, choose one of the terms available, try to use it consistently, and check your draft or have someone else check it for variations, especially near sentence beginnings.

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Don't Use Obsolete or Vague Words and Phrases

Try not to use the words on the list below: they are often unclear and nearly always unnecessary.

Don't Use


above, aforesaid, aforementioned, beforementioned, hereby, herein, hereinafter, hereinbefore, herewith, therefor, therein, thereinafter, thereinbefore, thereof name a specific section or part.
thereupon, whereupon when, at that time
to wit namely

Use the following words sparingly: all, any, each, every, some. Substitute a, an, and the. Instead of the legalisms such, said, and same, use a, an, the, it, that, them, or some other noun or pronoun or nothing.

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Limit Your Use of "Shall"

The revisor's office recommends using must, not shall, to impose duties. Most speakers of English stopped using shall to mean "is ordered to" in the seventeenth century. Dictionaries show that we generally use shall as a formal form of will so to most readers the lawyer's shall is an obsolete legalism.

If you prefer the traditional shall, minimize its use as follows:

Shall. Use shall only when you are imposing a duty on a person or body:

"The licensee shall give the debtor a copy of the signed contract."


"An association that issues shares by series shall keep a record of every certificate that it issues."

In conditions, don't use shall at all. Use present perfect tense, not future perfect. Don't write, "If it shall have been established..."

Write, "If it has been established..." Don't write, "When the officers shall have completed their investigation..." Write, "When the officers have completed their investigation..."

Must. Use must, not shall, to talk about a thing rather than a person:

"A copy of the signed contract must be given to the debtor,"


"A record must be kept whenever a certificate is issued."

Use must to express requirements, that is, statements about what people or things must be rather than what they must do:

"Public members of the board must be broadly representative of the public interest and must not be members of health professions licensed by the state of Minnesota..."

Need not. Use need not or is not required to, to say that a thing is not required:

"If fewer than seven people object to the rule, a hearing need not be held," or "no hearing is required."

Should. Do not use should in rules. A statement that a person should do something is not a rule.

May. Use may to mean "is permitted to" or "is authorized to" or "has power to":

"The commissioner may call a special meeting of the board when necessary."

When you use may, be sure that your sentence does not grant impermissibly broad discretion to any agency or official. The amount of discretion permitted depends on the matter being regulated and on the statutory language that grants the rulemaking authority.

Must not. Use must not to mean "is forbidden to" or "is prohibited from." Don't use shall not. Say "no person may" or "a person must not," not "no person shall."

Means. In definitions, write means, not shall mean. Write "have the meanings given them," instead of "shall have the meanings given them."

Is. Don't use shall to say what the law is, to make a statement that is true by operation of law. For example, say that a person is eligible for a grant under certain conditions, not that he or she shall be eligible.

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Write in the Third Person

Rule drafters need to compromise between the needs of statutory drafting and the requirements of plain English. Most plain English drafting instructions call for the use of the second and first person - addressing the consumer as "you" and calling the company "we." Using "we" and "you" is probably impractical in rules, which usually have to deal with several different sets of people and their duties. Write in terms of "the commissioner," "the department," and so on.

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Use Familiar Words

Use "speaking vocabulary," not writing vocabulary, as much as you can without being slangy. The list below mentions some words to avoid and suggests some plainer words to replace them with, but there are many other words that should be avoided.

Use the list, but remember the principle: prefer the most familiar words. It is not the length of the word that matters, but the number of readers who understand it.

Don't Use


accorded given
afforded given
approximately about
as to about, concerning
attempt try
cease stop
commence begin, start
deem consider, judge
effect (as a verb) make
effectuate carry out, do
employ use
endeavor (verb) try
evince show
expedite hasten, speed up
expend spend
expiration end
formulate make
forthwith immediately
furnish give
impact on influence
indicate show (or more specific verb)
inform tell
initiate begin (depends on use)
inquire ask
institute begin, start, set up
interrogate question
modify change
necessitate require
negotiate (in the sense of "enter into a contract with") make
obtain get
occasion cause
portion part
possess have
preserve keep
procure get, obtain
prior to before
promulgate publish, make, adopt
proceed go, go ahead
purchase buy
pursuant to under
remainder rest
render ("cause to be") make
render ("give") give
request ask for
require need
retain keep

specified ("listed, expressly mentioned")


subsequent to after
suffer ("permit") permit, allow
summon (verb) send for, call
terminate end
(be) unable to cannot
utilize use

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Replace Wordy Expressions With Shorter Substitutes

Avoid the wordy phrases in the list below. Use the shorter, simpler expressions in the left column.

Don't Use


absolutely null and void and of no effect void
adequate number of enough
all of the the
attains the age of becomes...years old
at the time, at such time as when
at that (this) point in time then (now)
by means of by
corporation organized and existing under Minnesota laws Minnesota corporation
does not operate to does not
due to the fact that because
during such time as while
during the course of during
excessive number of too many
for the duration of during
for the purpose of holding (or other gerund) to hold (or other infinitive)
for the reason that because
from and after after
from July 1 after June 30
full force and effect force, effect
in case if
in order to to
in the event that if
in the interest of for
is able to can
is applicable applies
is authorized and empowered to may
is binding upon binds
is entitled (in the sense of "has the name") is called
is unable to cannot
means and includes means
not later than June 30, 1981 before July 1, 1981
not less than at least
not to exceed not more than
null and void void
of a technical nature technical
on and after July 1, 1981 after June 30, 1981
on or before June 30, 1981 before July 1, 1981
or, in the alternative or
party (person, individual)

person (but keep in mind the statutory definition of person)

per annum, per day, per foot a year, a day, a foot
per centum percent
period of time period, time
pursuant to under, according to
remainder rest
sole and exclusive sole
sufficient number of enough
the manner in which how
to the effect that that
true and correct true, correct
under the provisions of under
unless and until unless, until
until such time as until
whatsoever whatever
whensoever when, if
whenever when, if
wheresoever wherever
whosoever whoever
with the object of changing (or other gerund)

to change (or other infinitive

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Avoid Nominal Style

Many verbs have related nouns: you can decide or make a decision complain or make a complaint speak or make a speech know or have knowledge.

Writing that uses verbs (verbal style) is usually brief and clear. Writing that uses nouns (nominal style) can be too formal and wordy. Most drafters overuse nominal style and need to be trained to prefer verbal style.

Don't Use


to implement pupil behavior management techniques...

to manage pupils' behavior

established a contractual relationship with...

contracted with

has knowledge or suspicion that...

knows or suspects that...

make application for

apply for

make payment for

pay for

make provision for

provide for

upon X's request to Y

if X asks Y

upon a determination by X that

if X determines that

There are many other possibilities. The suffixes -ance, -ancy, -ant, -ence, -ency, -ent, -ion, and -ment often mark nouns derived from verbs, so check for nominal style whenever you see these suffixes. Not all nominals, however, show how they are related to specific verbs. For example, "to have an adverse impact on the environment" could mean "to harm the environment" or "to disturb the environment" or any of a number of verbs. Nominals of this kind are harder to spot and correct, so learn to concentrate meaning in your verbs in the very first draft.

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Avoid Creating Jargon

Jargon has neutral and negative meanings. It refers to the useful technical vocabulary of a trade or profession, but it is also used for unclear expressions that have a technical ring. Real technical language can save time and space; if your audience understands it and expects it, then use it. Jargon-like terms created to dignify your subject are simply hard to read. Learn to recognize them and weed them out.

If you must create a general term, don't make it more general than necessary. Government writing is said to be full of buzzwords, phrases that sound imposing but mean little. It's not hard to see why we write them. In rules especially, drafters have to create names that cover broad classes. For example, the phrase "health care facility" in a rule might cover hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes.

To avoid creating buzzwords when you write broad terms, don't depend on abstract words like facility, entity, organization, and structure. Phrases like "regional channel entity," "entity operational structure," or "parallel policy options" are meaningless unless the reader looks back at the definitions. Be as specific as possible. Don't call something a "programming entity" if you can call it a programming company. If certain boards grant licenses, don't call them "credentialling organizations." Call them licensing boards.

This advice is part of a larger rule: use concrete words. Watch out for fuzzy words like area, aspect, facet, degree, and matter.

What if the jargon already exists in the law? Drafters are conservative by nature; they often repeat any language that works legally in order to avoid lawsuits. For example, the phrase "Flesch scale analysis readability score," which would horrify Dr. Flesch by its unreadability, was copied into Minnesota law from another state's draft. It is certainly not the clearest or briefest way to refer to the Flesch test. Let your guide be communication with your readers, and don't preserve bad wording unless you have a compelling legal reason. Consistency is valuable, but so is clarity.

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Avoid Strings of Nouns and Adjectives

Strings of nouns, all modifying one another, are hard to read because they mask relationships between words. For example, does "early childhood program alternative case load" mean an alternative case load for an early childhood program or a case load for an early childhood program alternative? You may need more words in order to make their relationships clear, as these examples show:

Don't Use


electronic financial terminal authorization application

application for the right to use an electronic financial terminal

Flesch scale analysis readability score

Flesch test score, or read-ability score on the Flesch scale

early childhood program alternative case loads

case loads for early childhood programs

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Avoid Strings of Initials

Initials are hard to read because they force a lay reader to go back to the definitions and to make repeated mental substitutions. If you don't want to write the phrase "home improvement loan application form" over and over, don't call it a HILAF. Instead, define a short substitute like "application form" or just "form."

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Be On Guard Against Euphemisms

When you feel the need to make up a new, neutral term, remember a few truths about people, language, and the reputation of government writing. An obvious euphemism will offend just as many people as an emotionally charged word. When it becomes familiar it will be just as offensive as the phrase it replaced. The euphemism you write will add to the abundant evidence that government writing tries to hide the truth; it will lessen public respect for rules. It may not even get through to your readers if it differs from the terms they understand.

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Don't Try to Squeeze Everything into One Sentence

Many of Minnesota's statutes are written in an archaic single-sentence form:

In the prosecution of any offense committed upon, or in relation to, or in any way affecting real estate, or any offense committed in stealing, destroying, injuring, or fraudulently receiving or concealing any money, goods, or other personal estate, it shall be sufficient, and shall not be deemed a variance, if it shall be proved on trial that, at the time when such offense was committed, either the actual or constructive possession, of the general or special property, in the whole or any part of such real or personal estate, was in the person or community alleged in the indictment or other accusation to be the owner thereof.

This sentence is hard to read because the most important parts are buried in separate phrases near the end. The recommendations suggest ways to break up long sentences so that you can keep your average sentence length under 25 words.

If your subject forces you to use terms of art or other difficult words, make your sentences proportionately shorter.

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Put the Subject Up Front and Make it a Person

The first difficulty readers meet in the example above is in finding the main thought of the sentence. The main clause starts with "it shall be sufficient... " There are 39 words in front of it; they describe circumstances but force us to wait a long time to find out what the circumstances relate to. When we finally find the main clause, we have to wade through even more information.

To avoid losing your audience, limit your introductory phrases or clauses to 20 words. See hints on cutting these clauses or phrases down. If the information will not fit into 20 words, put it in a separate sentence:

This part applies to a prosecution of an offense affecting real estate or committed in stealing, destroying, injuring, or fraudulently receiving or concealing personal property. At a trial for these offenses, to prove ownership of the property, the plaintiff must prove that the person or community named in the indictment or other accusation as owner of the property had actual or constructive possession of the general or special property, in whole or in part, when the offense was committed. Proof of this type is not a variance.

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Don't Use "Which + Noun"

The following sentences contain types of relative clauses that sound archaic to modern ears:

The executive secretary shall give as much notice as possible to all board members prior to any special meeting, which notice shall state the time, place, and subject matter of the meeting.

All parties have the right to a hearing before the hearing examiner at which hearing the parties may cross-examine witnesses….

Changing the relative clauses to separate sentences produces more modern English and shorter sentences:

Before any special meeting, the executive secretary shall give all board members as much notice as possible. The notice must state the time, place, and subject matter of the meeting.

All parties have the right to a hearing before the hearing examiner. At this hearing, the parties may cross-examine witnesses….

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Keep the Parts of a Verb Close Together

Most sentences in rules and bills have verbs with more than one part: shall + (verb), may + (verb), must + (verb), and so on. Sometimes a word is placed between these parts, as in "The commissioner shall immediately order an investigation of a reported epidemic."

One-word adverbs in this position do no harm; sometimes they are necessary. But longer divisions are difficult to read, as this sentence demonstrates:

"Within ten days after service of the notice of appeal, the appealing party shall in writing, with a copy to the executive secretary of the Public Employment Relations Board and all parties or their representatives of record, order from the Bureau of Mediation Services a transcript of any parts of the proceedings it deems necessary..."

The interrupting words make no sense without the verb order, but the reader must struggle through 20 words to reach it. The interrupting words would serve better as a separate sentence:

"...the appealing party shall order from the Bureau of Mediation Services a transcript of any parts of the proceedings it considers necessary. The transcript order must be in writing. The appealing party must give a copy of the transcript order to the executive secretary of the Public Employment Relations Board and all parties or their representatives of record."

Avoid interrupting any group of words that must be understood together. In this sentence, the interrupted phrase is underlined:

"The judge or magistrate must commit the accused to the county jail for such a time, not exceeding 30 days specified in the warrant, as will enable the arrest of the accused to be made."

Again, the interrupting words should be a separate sentence.

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Never Use the Passive When You Can Use the Active

This advice is quoted from George Orwell's Politics and the English Language, an essay that first appeared in 1945. The advice has been repeated for 52 years, but it never seems to take hold. Maybe it needs to be better explained.

What does voice mean here? A sentence is in the active voice when the subject "does" the verb: "Agencies publish rules in the State Register," is in the active voice. "Rules are published in the State Register by agencies," is in the passive voice because the subject rules is not the doer of the verb are published. The doer shows up in the words by agencies. "Rules are published in the State Register" is still in the passive voice, although the doer of the action does not show up at all.

Another way to recognize passive voice is to look for the verbs be, is, are, was, were, has been, have been, and had been followed by words that end in -ed, -t, or -en. Here are some examples:

is taken

shall be arithmetically averaged

are taught

have been reduced

Clauses or sentences that contain verbs like these are in the passive voice.

What's wrong with passive voice? In laws and rules, passive sentences without phrases containing "by" are dangerous because they do not say what duties are assigned to whom. Wydick's Plain English for Lawyers demonstrates the problem with this sentence from a patent license:

All improvements of the patented invention which are made hereafter shall promptly be disclosed, and failure to do so shall be deemed a material breach of this license agreement.

Nothing in the sentence tells us who must disclose improvements to whom. If rules and laws exist to explain people's responsibilities, then drafters must avoid sentences that don't assign responsibilities clearly.

When is it safe to use passive voice? Passive voice lets you begin the sentence with the word the sentence is really "about." It also lets you put old or repeated information at the beginning of the sentence where it demands less attention and new information at the end of the sentence where it stands out.

The indictment, information, or affidavit must charge the person with having committed a crime. The indictment, information, or affidavit must be authenticated by the executive authority making the demand.

Passive voice can also let you put a long series of nouns at the end of a sentence so that your reader will not have to work through the series before coming to the verb:

The application may be made by the prosecuting attorney of the county in which the offense was committed the parole board or the chief executive officer of the facility or sheriff of the county from which the person escaped.

Sometimes passive voice will help you avoid using he or she. See the section on avoiding gender-specific language.

When you use passive voice for any of these reasons, be certain that the duty or permission is assigned clearly, either in the passive sentence or in one of the sentences nearby.

When is the passive voice unnecessary? When the passive voice does not solve these specific problems, it is probably needless. When a sentence contains a phrase beginning with by ("by the commissioner") and that phrase is not at the end of the sentence, you can safely change the sentence to active voice.

Passive: The required monitoring frequency may be reduced by the commissioner to a minimum of one sample analyzed for total trihalomethanes per quarter.

Active: The commissioner may reduce the required monitoring frequency to a minimum of one sample analyzed for total trihalomethanes per quarter.

Passive: When a demand shall be made upon the governor of this state by the executive authority of another state for the surrender of a person charged with crime...

Active: When the executive authority of another state demands that the governor of this state surrender a person charged with crime...

Drafters use the passive voice needlessly when they concentrate on things and requirements rather than on people and duties. For example, the passive sentences above concentrate on "the required monitoring frequency" and "a demand." Remember that it's better to impose a duty or grant a permission in the active voice than to state a requirement in the passive.

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Cut Needless Words

There are five ways to cut out words:

1. Avoid starting a sentence or clause with There is or There are or There shall be or There may be. Often these words are needless, as in this example:

There shall be excluded in computing the percentage of voting power or value any stock owned directly by the other corporations.

The sentence is shorter if turned around:

Any stock owned directly by the other corporations is excluded in computing the percentage of voting power or value.

If you want to put different information at the end of the sentence, you can write:

In computing the percentage of voting power or value, any stock owned directly by the other corporations is excluded.

If you know who is to do the computing and the excluding, you can put the verb in the active voice and make the sentence shorter still.

2. Cut clauses down to phrases. Clauses that contain who, which, or that plus have been, has been, or had been will sometimes work as well if those words are stricken:

"applicants who have been declared ineligible"

can become

"applicants declared ineligible."

But cut words carefully. Research shows that cuts of this sort can make sentences harder to understand.

3. Remove redundant words. Don't repeat words or elements of meaning. Most drafters don't see their own repetitions, so have another reader check for these errors. Here is an example:

The purpose of vision screening is to screen each applicant to guarantee that those individuals with substandard vision are required to take the necessary steps required to achieve the best vision possible.

Without repetition, the example reads this way:

The purpose of vision screening is to guarantee that individuals with substandard vision take the necessary steps to achieve the best vision possible.

4. Avoid all wordy expressions, not only the ones peculiar to the law. Here are some examples:

Don't Use


round in shape


red in color


sweet in taste


the condition of despair


the fact that the defendant was young

the defendant's youth

despite the fact that


because of the fact that


in many cases


in some cases


5. Don't overdraft. Usually this guide tells you to be as specific as possible. This advice does not mean that you should name every single thing you are forbidding or requiring.

This National Park Service rule has been called the classic example of trying to cover all the possibilities:

S 50.10 Trees, shrubs, plants, grass and other vegetation. (a) General injury. No person shall prune, cut, carry away, pull up, dig, fell, bore, chop, saw, chip, pick, move, sever, climb, molest, take, break, deface, destroy, set fire to, burn, scorch, carve, paint, mark, or in any manner interfere with, tamper, mutilate, misuse, disturb or damage any tree, shrub, plant, grass, flower, or part thereof, nor shall any person permit any chemical, whether solid, fluid, or gaseous, to seep, drip, drain or be emptied, sprayed, dusted or injected upon, about or into any tree, shrub, plant, grass, flower, or part thereof, except when specifically authorized by competent authority; nor shall any person build fires, or station, or use any tar kettle, heater, road roller or other engine within an area covered by this part in such a manner that the vapor, fumes, or heat therefrom may injure any tree or other vegetation.

Dr. Janice Redish of the Document Design Center points out that using general terms - like "No one may harm the plants," - will probably give more legal protection than trying to list specific things.

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Put Modifiers Near the Things They Modify

A modifier is a word or group of words that tells more about another word's meaning. In these examples, the modifiers are shown in italics:

Modifiers should appear right next to the words they modify. When they don't, sentences at best look silly and at worst look confusing, as in this rule:

"The public school district or intermediary service area shall inform the nonpublic school of the type, level, and location of health services that are to be made available to the nonpublic school students by August 15."

Are the services to be made available by August 15, or is the district to inform the school by August 15? The drafter probably meant "...shall inform the nonpublic school by August 15..." and should have said it.

Some misplaced modifiers are unintentionally funny:

"Card issuer means a financial institution... providing use of a terminal to a customer to be activated by a card."

"The goals of food service in each facility shall be to provide food and beverages to clients that are nutritionally adequate."

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Limit Your Use of Parentheses

Generally, avoid parenthetical phrases in text. Parenthetical phrases lengthen and complicate sentences. Commas or rephrasing will usually do as well to separate a parenthetical expression.

Example of needless parentheses:

Emergency assistance shall be granted only to a family that includes a child (under age 21) who is (or within six months before application has been) living with a relative eligible as a caretaker, and that is completely without resources to solve the emergency.

Rephrased without parentheses:

To receive emergency assistance a family must be completely without resources to solve the emergency. It must also include a child under age 21 who lives with a relative eligible as a caretaker or who has lived with an eligible relative within six months before application.

Of course, some special uses of parentheses are permissible:

  1. Use parentheses around subitem numbers and unit letters. See Subitem and Unit.

  2. Use parentheses where needed in mathematical expressions.

    Example: w = y(a) + z(b)

  3. Use parentheses to set off place of publication, publisher, and date in references.

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Write Paragraphs, Not Outlines

Some authorities on drafting maintain that long sentences are clearer if they are set out in outline form. This example is from Richard Wydick's Plain English For Lawyers:

One who is liable to another for interference with a contract of prospective advantageous economic relation is liable for damages for:

(a) the pecuniary loss of the benefits of the contract of the prospective relation;

(b) other pecuniary loss for which the interference is a legal cause; and

(c) emotional distress or actual harm to reputation, if they are reasonably to be expected to result from the interference.

For this example, the advice is true; outline style helps. Outlining can, however, be taken too far. Most long, tabulated sentences do not need to be as long as they are. Here is a case in which outlining has created a monster:

A. "Firefighter" includes an employee whose primary duties, as set forth in the official position description, require the performance of work directly connected with the control and extinguishment of fires, or the maintenance and use of firefighting apparatus and equipment.

B. "Firefighter" also includes an employee who is transferred to a position the primary duties of which are not the control and extinguishment of fires or the maintenance and use of firefighting apparatus and equipment, or from such a position to another such position, if:

(1) Service in the position transferred to follows service in a firefighter position without:

(a) a break in service of more than three days; or

(b) intervening employment that was not as a firefighter;

(2) The duties of the position transferred to are in the firefighting line of work in an organization with firefighting responsibilities; and

(3) The position transferred to is -

(a) Supervisory - one which requires a duty of supervising subordinate employees who are directly engaged in firefighting and/or in the maintenance and use of firefighting apparatus and equipment; or

(b) Administrative - one which includes an executive or managerial position and may include a clerical, technical, semiprofessional, or professional position of a type also found in organizations with not firefighting responsibilities; provided, that experience as a firefighter is a basic qualification for the administrative position.

True, outline style makes it possible to read this otherwise unreadable sentence, but it does not make the sentence easy to read. Every numbered or lettered part is a sentence fragment, meaningless unless the reader works backward in the sentence to see how the part relates to the other parts. By the time readers get to (2), they have to survey the letters and numbers to be sure that (2) is one of the conditions governed by if.

The drafter could have made the same points more clearly in sentences like these:

"Firefighter" includes employees whose primary duties, as shown in their official job descriptions, are controlling and putting out fires or maintaining and using firefighting equipment.

"Firefighter" also includes employees transferred from firefighting jobs to other jobs. To be considered firefighters, transferred employees must be supervisors of firefighters or must hold jobs that require previous firefighting experience. They must work for organizations with firefighting responsibilities and their duties must be in the firefighting line of work. Between the firefighting jobs and the supervisory or other jobs, they must not have spent more than three days out of work or worked at any job other than firefighting.

These rewritten sentences use brevity and clarity rather than white space to get their meaning across. They omit needless words and turn subordinate clauses and noun phrases into sentences. There will be times when you must use an outline or even a table, but choose these as last resorts when you can't break up sentences any further.

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Be Careful with Lists

Lists are so common in rule drafting that they deserve discussion even of basic matter. Here, then are the basics.

1. Write a series of short items in paragraph form without enumeration (that is, without numbers or letters marking each item). Separate the items with commas. Use a comma between the next-to-last item and the conjunction.


Butter, fortified margarine, cream, or salad oil may be used in moderate amounts to make food palatable.


The administrator shall draw up rules that govern work hours, vacations, illness, sick leave, holidays, retirement, employee health services, group insurance evaluation procedures, promotions, personal hygiene practices, attire, conduct, disciplinary actions, and other matters that need to be regulated so that employees can do their jobs properly.

2. If you use an introductory expression, follow it with a colon.


The administrator shall have the following records kept: registers, daily logs, medical records, dental records, programming records, and good time records.

3. If some of the items in a list contain commas, separate the items with semicolons.


....the following: soups; sweets such as desserts, sugar, or jellies; or fats such as bacon, cream, and salad dressings.

4. When several of the items in a list are about one typed line long each, when they have complex internal punctuation, or when they are subordinate clauses, the list needs to be tabulated and enumerated for ease of reading.

The next sentence describes and illustrates the punctuation rules for a tabulated list.


If you list verb phrases, you must:

  1. end the introductory expression with a colon;
  2. begin each item in the list with a lower case letter;
  3. use a conjunction after the next-to-last item in the list;
  4. end each item except the last with a semicolon; and
  5. end the last item with a period.


The entrance salary may be above the minimum rate only if:

  1. the individual's exceptional qualifications justify an appointment at a higher rate;
  2. others with similar qualifications are offered the same rate; and
  3. the appointment at a higher rate is made at one of the established steps of the salary range.

5. The items in a tabulated list need not always be parts of one sentence; they can be independent sentences. Full sentences should have their first words capitalized and end in periods.


The designation must use one of the following terms:

A. "Fee paid" or "employer-paid fee" must be used if the employer has agreed to pay the entire fee directly to the agency.

B. "Fee reimbursed" must be used if the applicant must pay the fee to the agency and be paid back later by the employer.

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Some Special Problems with Lists

Lists of single words and lists of sentences rarely cause problems. Lists of sentence parts cause serious problems. Avoid lists of sentence parts if you can, and if you can't, at least observe these rules:

Don't insert whole sentences into your listed sentence parts. For example, don't write:

"Excluded stock" for a brother-sister controlled group means:

  1. stock in a member corporation held by an employee's trust if the trust is for the benefit of the employees;
  2. stock in a member corporation owned by an employee of the corporation, but only if substantial limits or restrictions are imposed on the employee's right to dispose of the stock. A bona fide reciprocal stock repurchase arrangement will not be considered one that restricts or limits the employee's right to dispose of stock; or
  3. stock in a member corporation that is held by a nonprofitable educational or charitable organization.

If only one item has an inserted sentence, you can move that item to the end of the list. That will solve the problem temporarily, but an amendment may add a new item and make the sentence an interrupter again. You can also move the sentence to a paragraph after the list and refer to the item that the sentence applies to: "In item B, a bona fide reciprocal stock repurchase arrangement will not be considered one that restricts or limits the employee's right to dispose of stock." That will add an internal reference, and internal references should be avoided if possible. The best solution is to turn your list of sentence parts into a list of sentences, so that the inserted sentence can be left next to the item it explains:

"Excluded stock" for a brother-sister controlled group has the following meanings:

  1. It means stock in a member corporation held by an employee's trust if the trust is for the benefit of the employees.
  2. It means stock in a member corporation owned by an employee of the corporation, but only if substantial limits or restrictions are imposed on the employee's right to dispose of the stock. A bona fide reciprocal stock repurchase arrangement is not be considered one that restricts or limits the employee's right to dispose of stock.
  3. It means stock in a member corporation that is held by a nonprofit educational or charitable organization.

Don't write lists within lists. There is one exception to this rule: in a list of sentences, the sentences may contain simple series of words without enumeration or tabulation.

Be careful with and and or. Normally and means that the items are to be taken together, and or means that one is to be chosen from the list. But these examples adopted from Reed Dickerson's Fundamentals of Legal Drafting show how a choice of and or or can depend on the wording of your items:

The security roll includes:

  1. each person who is 70 years of age or older;

  2. each person who is permanently, physically disabled; and

  3. each person who has been declared mentally incompetent.

The security roll includes each person who:

  1. is 70 years of age or older;

  2. is permanently physically disabled; or

  3. has been declared mentally incompetent.

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State Conditions Clearly

The usual way to express a condition or hypothetical situation is to begin the sentence with an if or when clause: "If the person under arrest refuses to permit chemical testing, none may be given." Use if or when, not the legalism where.

Sometimes more than one condition introduces a sentence. When this happens, keep the main clause as short as possible:

If the basic member and the surviving dependent spouse are killed in a common disaster, and if the total of all survivor's benefits paid under this subpart is less than the accumulated deductions plus interest payable, the surviving children shall receive the difference in a lump-sum payment.

If you can't keep the main clause short, put the conditions after the main clause:


D. A supplier using the reduced monitoring frequency prescribed under items B and C must go back to using the monitoring requirements of item B if:

(1) the results from an analysis exceed 0.10 milligrams per liter of total trihalomethanes and are confirmed by at least one check sample taken promptly after the results are received; or

(2) the supplier significantly changes its source of water or water treatment program.

In either case, the supplier must continue monitoring according to the requirements of item B for at least one year before the frequency may be reduced again.

If the conditions are complex, divide them into separate sentences. A condition that takes more than two lines of type signals that you should be using several sentences, as in this example:

D. Corporations are members of a parent-subsidiary controlled group if they satisfy these conditions:

(1) One or more of the corporations must own more than 50 percent of the total combined voting power or more than 50 percent of the total value of shares of all classes of stock of each corporation, except the common parent corporation.

(2) The common parent corporation must own stock with more than 50 percent of the total combined voting power of at least one of the other corporations. Stock owned directly by these other corporations is excluded in computing the percent of voting power or value.

If there are more than two conditions, make a list of subordinate clauses after the main clause.


A. The city is eligible for a proportional share of the subsidy provided for the counties if:

(1) the city has a population of 40,000 persons or more;

(2) the city has a board of health organized under Minnesota Statutes, section 145.913; and

(3) the city provides local matching funds to support the community health services as provided in Minnesota Statutes, section 145.921.

If you have a long list of conditions, make it a list of sentences.


A. The city is eligible for a proportional share of the subsidy provided for the counties if it satisfies these conditions:

(1) It must have a population of 40,000 persons or more.

(2) It must have a board of health organized under Minnesota Statutes, section 145.913.

(3) It must provide local matching funds to support the community health services as provided in Minnesota Statutes, section 145.92.

The words "these conditions" and the colon end the first sentence. The phrases "under these conditions," "under the following conditions," or "unless X satisfies these requirements" are good introductory expressions for sentences like these. The sentences that state the conditions all use the verb must have or must be, not shall have or shall be, and not has or is.

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Avoid Provisos

Don't use the words provided that. You can accomplish the same thing with if or with a new sentence or clause.

Example: (an unnecessary provided that)

Failure to enter a program is grounds for revocation of supervised release; provided, however that if no community program is available at the time of supervised release, the board may order that the supervised releasee enter the first available community program.

Example: (a clearer version, without such, nominal style, or provided that)

The board may revoke supervised release if the supervised releasee fails to enter a program. If no community program is available at the time of supervised release, the board may order the supervised releasee to enter the first available community program.

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Keep Parallel Ideas in Parallel Form

Drafters often pair or group similar ideas, but they are not always careful to keep similar ideas in similar, or "parallel," form. Bad parallels show up often in lists, as they do here:

No applicant may be hired who has any of the following conditions:

(1) blood pressure over 160/60;

(2) any communicable disease as listed in chapter 4605; or

(3) applicant not of good general health.

The key word is "conditions." "Applicant not of good general health" is not the name of a condition in the way that "blood pressure" and "disease" are. Subitem (3) should be rewritten as "poor general health."


A person shall not drain, throw, or deposit upon the lands and waters within a state park any substance that would mar the appearance, create a stench, or destroy the cleanliness or safety of the park.

"Appearance," cleanliness," and "safety" all go with "of the par," but "stench" doesn't. The last part of the sentence needs to be rearranged this way:

....anything that would mar the park's appearance, destroy its cleanliness or safety, or create a stench.

When you write a series or list, make sure that every item in it does the same job in the sentence.

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Untangle Computations

Computations probably cause more headaches than any other feature of rules. In the standard phrasing for computations, the sentences are often long: they include long multiple conditions; they include references that block sentence flow and delay the arrival of the next sentence elements; they have long subordinate clauses that separate modifiers from the things they modify. On top of all this, computations are usually in the passive voice and they almost always misuse shall. Here is a relatively simple example:

If only a portion of the rent constituting property taxes is paid by these programs, the resident shall be a claimant for purposes of this chapter, but the refund calculated pursuant to Minnesota Statutes, section 290A.04, shall be multiplied by a fraction, the numerator of which is income as defined in Minnesota Statutes, section ...., subdivision 3, reduced by the total amount of income from the above sources other than vendor payments under the medical assistance program or the general assistance medical care program and the denominator of which is income as defined in Minnesota Statutes, section ..., subdivision 3, plus vendor payments under the medical assistance program or the general assistance medical care program, to determine the allowable refund pursuant to this chapter.

We need a more readable way to describe computations. Reed Dickerson recommends the "cookbook" approach, that is, describing the steps, one by one, that produce the right figure.

Applying Dickerson's principle to the original bad example, we get a test like this:

"If only a portion...the resident is a claimant for purposes of this chapter but the refund calculated according to Minnesota Statutes, section 290A.04, must be changed according to the following directions:

(1) Compute income as defined in subdivision 3. This is figure 1.

(2) Compute the total amount of income from the above sources other than vendor payments under the medical assistance program or the general assistance medical care program. This is figure 2.

(3) Subtract figure 2 from figure 1. This is figure 3.

(4) Compute the amount of vendor payments under the medical assistance program or the general medical program. This is figure 4.

(5) Add figure 1 to figure 4. This sum is figure 5.

(6) Create a fraction whose numerator is figure 3 and whose denominator is figure 5.

(7) Multiply this fraction by the refund calculated under Minnesota Statutes, section 290A.04, to determine the refund allowable under this chapter.

The advantages of this method are short sentences, information delivered in small amounts, and active voice.

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Avoid Gender-Specific Language Without Sacrificing Clarity

There are many ways to avoid gender-specific nouns like workman or man hours. A list of substitutes follows:

Don't Use


Brother, sister



Business person, executive, member of the business community, business manager


Crew member

Daughter, son

Child, children



Enlisted man

Enlisted personnel, enlisted member, enlistee

Father, mother

Parent, parents

Female, male

Person, individual





Grandfather, grandmother


Husband and wife

Married couple


Mail carrier


Person, human, human being


Person hours, hours worked, workers hours


Humanity, human beings, humankind


Artificial, of human origin, synthetic manufactured


Personnel, workforce, worker, human resources



Per man

Per person


Police officer


Sailor, crew member

Serviceman, servicemen

Service member service members

Six-man commission

Six-member commission

She, her (reference to a ship)

It, its

To man a vessel

To staff a vessel

Trained manpower

Trained workforce, staff, personnel

Widower, widow

Surviving spouse

Wife, wives, husbands, husband's

Spouse, spouses, spouse's

Workmen's compensation

Workers' compensation

Avoiding pronouns like he or she is much harder, but it can be done; the unnecessary pronouns have been removed from Minnesota Statutes. Try these methods for avoiding pronouns:

1. Use the plural: "Applicants are eligible if they meet the following requirements..."

2. Repeat the noun: "If the commissioner finds...the commissioner may order..."

3. Rearrange the sentences: "To learn whether the sampling frequency may be safely reduced, the commissioner may order a sanitary survey. If it would be safe to reduce the sampling frequency, the commissioner..."

4. Use a relative clause: "An applicant who meets the requirements in items A to D is eligible..."

5. Use a modifier without an expressed subject: "On finding that the sampling frequency can be safely reduced, the commissioner may..."

6. Use the passive voice: "If it is found that the sampling frequency may be safely reduced, the commissioner may order..." but remember the dangers of passive voice; those dangers make this a less-than-perfect solution to the gender problem.

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Don't Draft What You Don't Need

Citations or Short Titles

Popular names and short titles are considered unnecessary; try not to use them. If you must assign a citation, popular name, or short title to rules, capitalize all the important words in the title: nouns, adjectives, the word rules or the like. Put the title in quotation marks in the part in which you assign the title; in later references, omit the quotation marks. The title will usually be at the end of the sentence; if it is, put the terminal period inside the quotation marks. Example: Parts 1300.0100 to 1365.9900 may be cited as the "State Building Code."


Cross-references can make a provision difficult to read and understand. Readers miss the information behind the numbers unless they look up each reference or know the subject well. Repeat words and short phrases instead of referring to another section that contains them. When cross-references are vital, try adding a short phrase that gives information about the subject of that statute or rule.

The forms for references in rules appear in chapter 4.

Effective Dates

Properly adopted rules, other than exempt rules, are effective five working days after the notice of adoption is published in the State Register unless a later date is required by law or specified in the rules. Therefore, it is not necessary to draft an effective date provision unless you want the rules to become effective later than five days after publication.

If you draft an effective date provision use this form:


Parts 2015.0870 to 2015.0990 are effective July 1, 1997.


Parts 2015.0870 to 2015.0900 are effective July 1, 1997. Part 2015.0990 is effective January 1, 1998.

An effective date should be the last section in the draft. Exempt rules adopted under Minnesota Statutes, section 14.386 or 14.388, take effect upon publication in the State Register.

Interpretation Clauses

Clauses ordering that rules be liberally interpreted are unnecessary because the statutes provide principles for interpreting rules. Minnesota Statutes, section 645.001 provides that the laws governing statutory interpretation apply to rules. Write your draft so that its intent is clear without an interpretation clause.


Never write a general repeal clause ("All rules in conflict with parts ____ to ____are repealed.") Always repeal specific parts. Write "Minnesota Rules, parts ____; ____; and ____ are repealed." Never write a range of parts to be repealed ("Parts __ to __ are repealed.") List all parts.

Severability Clauses

Minnesota Statutes, section 645.20 makes the provisions of all laws severable, and section 645.001 extends this provision to rules. These laws make severability clauses unnecessary. If you don't want the provisions of your rules to be severable, specify that they are not. Otherwise, you need write nothing at all about severability.

Statements of Policy and Purpose

If a rule is written clearly, its purpose will not need to be explained and a policy statement will only add words.

Still, courts have been known to use policy statements to interpret law. If you feel you must have a policy statement to protect your rules, write one, but don't write it as a single long sentence. Minnesota Statutes, section 32A.02, is an example of the single-long-sentence form that you should avoid. Section 168B.01 is better, though still wordy.

Statutory Authority Statements

Don't write a part explaining the statutory authority for your rules. Minnesota Rules cites the statutory authority for every part in an unofficial editorial note. You will need to discuss statutory authority in other documents required for rulemaking.

For examples and explanations of statutory authority notes, see the User's Guide in volume 1 of Minnesota Rules.

Superseding Phrases

Drafters are often tempted to write that a rule "supersedes all rules in conflict with this part." Instead of this sweeping statement, try to track down the conflicting rules and state specifically what your rules supersede.

Tables of Contents

The revisor compiles tables of contents mechanically from headnotes for parts. Keep the appearance of these tables in mind when you write headnotes.

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Composing Amendments

All of the advice on clear writing that applies to new rules applies equally to amendments. A number of problems, though, are peculiar to amendments.

When you add material to a text, be careful where you put it. Don't add a long phrase or clause that interrupts the progress of a sentence. Instead, whenever you can, put the new material in a sentence by itself.


Don't write: "Sampling must begin before June 24, 1997. If the commissioner determines, on the basis of a sanitary survey that includes a determination of compliance with parts 1001.0010 to 1001.0050, the commissioner must impose a special sampling rate that it is more appropriate for the supplier to sample on a frequency other than quarterly."

Write: "If the commissioner determines that it is more appropriate for the supplier to sample on a frequency other than quarterly, the commissioner must impose a special sampling rate. The commissioner's determination must be based on a sanitary survey that includes a determination of compliance with parts 1001.0010 to 1001.0050."

Don't add a sentence to any item in a list of sentence parts. For an example of this mistake, see page 52. You can add the material in a new paragraph right after the list and refer to the relevant part of the list. Better still, you can amend the whole list to make each item a whole sentence rather than a sentence part. See examples of these changes.

If you add whole subparts, be careful to preserve the logical order of the subparts already there. (See example showing an added subpart number.)

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Housekeeping Changes

How much old rule language should you change when you amend? Deciding this can be difficult; there will be times when you want to keep your housekeeping changes at a minimum in order to show your substantive changes as clearly as possible. Here are the changes you should try to make routinely as long as they do not interfere with your substantive changes:

Also see text for a discussion of the question "should you amend or repeal?"

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Get A Second Opinion

All of us want to believe that we understand English usage perfectly. The truth is that no one person knows the rules perfectly because the language changes constantly.

How can you be sure that you are not jarring your readers? You can try to avoid controversial constructions, and in order to avoid them you must know what they are. You can use the American Heritage Dictionary to get a detailed view of usage questions. Other useful works are Index to English and Line by Line (see bibliography). You can also have other people read your drafts. Reconsider anything that disturbs more than one reader, even if it is not strictly wrong.

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