Friday, August 18, 2006

Plain English: question about shall

I received this:
    Dear Mr. Schiess:

    I just revised our Early Head Start Policy Council (PC) Bylaws and took out all the legalese in favor of simple, clear language our parent PC members can understand.

    Do you think bylaws need to contain the word shall, as in "The purpose of the Policy Council shall be . . ."? I changed them all to will in hopes of not intimidating our parent volunteers. But now I am wondering.
(Yet another example of the way outdated, shoddy legal drafting seeps into the real world and makes life difficult.)

I say this:
    No, the bylaws do not need to use shall. It's archaic and, in the sense you describe, incorrect.

    By the way, you say you revised it to "The purpose of the Policy Council will be . . ." That's better. But why not frame it in the present tense instead of the future? "The purpose of the Policy Council is . . ."

    And congratulations on revising legalese into plain English. I wish more people had the guts to cut through the legalese, ask questions, and write clearly.


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