Write Your Rules Without Shouting #1

Rules can be written respectfully.

A example of a clear, respectful rule is the following:

”Business hours run from 9:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M.”

The statement is clear and succinct. It is written as a declarative sentence in the present tense, describing the way things are as a matter of course.

The rule as worded assumes that employees will do what is necessary to put it into practice. It is predicated on the good faith of the people it is directed to, and on its face it does not sound oppressive or confrontational.

Contrast that with the heavy-handed wording in the next statement:

”Employees must open the office at 9:00 A.M. and must close it at 4:00 P.M.”

The hours of business are no clearer in the second statement, but clearly something else is going on in this office. The wording insinuates a compliance problem, or perhaps a lack of clarity around responsibilities. Alternatively, it’s possible that someone feels the need to make dictatorial pronouncements to reinforce the pecking order in the office. It sounds like the writer of this rule is shouting.

Most rules can be written without ever using the modal verbs ‘must,’ ‘should,’ and ‘may.’ I never use these verbs as substitutes for the adjectives ‘mandatory,’ ‘optional,’ ‘permitted,’ ‘recommended,’ and so on. Not only are the modal verbs more ambiguous than the adjectives—each modal can have several interpretations, especially in the negative—but they are less respectful.

It’s almost as if management believes that people don’t follow any rules that do not make a loud noise.

More Policy Writing Tips

For more information

You’ll find information on writing titles for policy instruments and many related topics in Respectful Policies and Directives, available at any bookstore.

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