Drafting Policies or Guidelines? Dump the Doublets…

Good corporate policy statements are clear and succinct. No doubt you’ve come across more than one corporate rule written in this style:

Applicants who plan or expect to change or modify their application forms should send or deliver the updated information, changes and modifications no later than March 31st.

or—even worse—this style:

Applicants who plan and/or expect to change and/or modify their application forms should send and/or deliver the updated information, changes and/or modifications no later than March 31st.

Doublets, or “word pairs,” are an historical vestige of the English language. Whether they still belong in legal documents is a question for another forum, but it’s time to retire them from other writing, especially policy instruments.

The use of doublets dates back hundreds of years, to the time when French was the dominant language in English legal matters. While over time the use of French waned, many of the old Legal French terms refused to be ousted by English equivalents, and thus began the custom of pairing words in formal documents, with one term being Anglo in origin and the other from French or Latin. Scores of these pairings still exist in the language today:

  • (last) will and testament
  • to have and to hold
  • free and clear
  • null and void
  • goods and chattels
  • lewd and lascivious
  • give and bequeath

After a while, the situation deteriorated: people started using doublets even when both terms came from the same language origins, for example:

  • terms and conditions
  • heirs and assigns
  • agree and covenant
  • over and above
  • due and payable

Doublets became the mark of formality and officialdom. Some people still use doublets today in formal documents, thinking that using two terms together makes a statement twice as clear as a single term on its own.

Newsflash: it doesn’t.

In fact, a doublet makes text more difficult to interpret, because it’s impossible to know when the two terms are meant to represent two different concepts and when they are meant to represent the same concept.

Are you aiming for clear and succinct? Stick with one term to represent a concept. The policy statement above is much more easily understood when it is worded as follows:

Applicants can modify their application forms by providing updated information no later than March 31st.

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.

Perfect Policies.org offers workshops that help you organize your policy instruments. Contact us for details.


Posted in