4. Use some mini-sentences. Sentences should
generally be 20 words or less. However,
occasionally using sentences of six words or less
slows down the reader and emphasizes ideas.
Example: I can get more information if each
of you gives me less. Heres why.
In a week, about 110 staff actions
show up in my in-box. I could
handle that in a week if all I did
was work the in-box. Yet 70
percent of my time in the head-
quarters goes not to the in-box but
to briefings. I could handle that
tooby listening to
briefings and thinking about staff
papers at the same time.
Make your writing as formal or informal as
the situation requires, but do so with language you
might use in speaking. The most readable writing
sounds like people talking to people.
To make your writing more like speaking, be-
gin by imagining your reader is sitting across from
you. Write with personal pronouns, every-
day words, and short sentences. Dont go out of
your way to use personal pronouns, but dont
avoid them. Speak of your activity, command,
or office as we, us, and our. When you are writing
to many addresses, speak directly to one reader;
only one person reads your writing at any one
Example: All addressees are requested to
provide inputs of desired course
Please send us your recommenda-
tions for course content.
When you write directives, look for
opportunities to talk directly to a user.
Procedures, checklists, or other how-to
instructions lend themselves to this cookbook
approach. Imagine someone has walked up to you
and asked what to do. The following example is
from a notice that repeated the duty officer dozens
The duty officer will verify that
security responsibilities have been
completed by putting his/her
initials in the checklist.
When you complete the inspection,
initial the checklist.
Sentences that give directions lead with verbs;
you is simply implied. This direct approach
requires imagination more than technical skill.
Think of writing not as words on a page but as
speaking from a distance.
Multiplied across an entire letter, roundabout
sentences like those in the next examples do severe
damage. We would be laughed out of the room
if we talked that way. Ordinary English is
shorter, clearer, and just as official:
Example: It is necessary that the material be
received in this office by 10 June.
We need the material by 10 June.
(or) The material must reach us by
It is and this command complicate the next
example. They force readers to put back the
pronouns the writer took out. To make matters
worse, the first it is refers to the reader while the
second refers to the sender.
If it is desired that Marines be
allowed to compete for positions
on the pistol team, this command
would be happy to establish and
manage team tryouts. It is recom-
mended that tryouts be conducted
soon to ensure . . . .
If you allow Marines to compete
for- positions on the pistol team, we
would be happy to establish and
manage the tryouts. We recom-
mend that tryouts start soon to
ensure . . . .
Can you overdo personal pronouns? Yes you
can. You can use so many pronouns that you
obscure the subject, and no number of them will
overcome confused thinking. Besides, some
subjects dont lend themselves to pronouns. The
description of a ships structure, for example, isnt
likely to include people. Also, criticism hurts
fewer feelings if delivered impersonally. "Nothing
has been done" avoids the direct attack of "You
have done nothing."
If we or I opens more than two sentences in
a row, the writing becomes monotonous and may
suggest self-centeredness. Sometimes a single
sentence can call too much attention to the sender:
I would like to extend my congratulations for
a job well done. Praise should stress the reader:
"Congratulations on the fine job you did."