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Effective: 12/1/1984

Revised: 9/15/2003

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[ASU logo] CAM 301–01: Guidelines for Clear Writing

Purpose

To provide guidelines for clear writing

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Source
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Academic and Administrative Documents

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Policy
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For a manual to be useful to readers, the policies and procedures in it must be clearly expressed. Wordiness, awkwardness, and the use of passive voice often interfere with clarity and make the reader’s task more difficult. This section offers some writing standards to increase clarity in policies and procedures.


ACTIVE VOICE AND PASSIVE VOICE

Use the active voice rather than the passive voice in most cases. (Make the subject perform the action rather than receive the action.) The active voice is more direct and vigorous, and it clearly indicates who does what.

Active Voice (usually preferable)

The Records Section checks the immigration status of a new staff member at orientation.

Passive Voice (usually not preferable)

The immigration status of a new staff member will be checked by the Records Section at orientation.

Appropriate Use of Passive Voice

The passive voice is appropriate in some cases. Choose the passive voice when the doer of the action is unknown, not pertinent, or less important than the receiver of the action. (Make the subject receive the action rather than perform it.)

All bids are filed in the formal bid folder with a copy of the purchase order.


WORDINESS

Omit needless words. Wordiness discourages manual users. Manuals have a notorious reputation for being difficult to use, and therefore useless, because many writers make simple ideas complex. A good rule is to use as few words as possible but as many as necessary to say what you mean. Wordiness leads to redundancy, or needless repetition. The following list identifies four techniques for cutting through redundant writing patterns. You should:

  1. Eliminate the “dead wood,” or needless words (e.g., “The cover of the manual is black in color” is better as “The manual cover is black”).
  2. Eliminate “twofers” (i.e., the use of two words that have virtually the same imprecise meaning where a single more accurate word, or one of the pair, will do); for example, “The government study was important and significant” is better as “The government study was significant.”
  3. Eliminate words that needlessly repeat what you have already said (e.g., “They made revised changes to their book” reads better as “They made changes to their book” or “They revised their book”).

    and

  4. Eliminate using several words where one will do, (e.g., using long-winded expressions such as “at this point in time” [better as “now”] and “due to the fact that” [better as “because”]).

    Wordy

    University malls must be accessible and free from congestion in order that students, faculty, and employees may have unobstructed passage through those areas of the campus.

    Better

    University malls must be free enough from congestion to allow people to walk through easily.


    SHORT, COMMON, CONCRETE WORDS

    Use short, common, concrete words rather than long, abstract, obscure terms. Generally, try to use words with three or fewer syllables.

    Original

    Room accessories such as refrigerators, televisions, bookcases, and tables are added accoutrements to room furnishings and are available on an optional basis to hall residents.

    Better

    Refrigerators, televisions, bookshelves, tables, and other room accessories are available to hall residents.


    SIMPLE SENTENCES

    Favor simple sentences over compound and complex sentences. Try to keep sentence length to an average of 15–20 words, especially for procedures.

    Original

    A faculty or staff member, who is prevented from using his officially registered vehicle due to mechanical difficulties, and who desires to use another vehicle that is not registered must apply at Parking Services for a temporary parking permit to allow the same parking privileges as provided by his or her parking decal.

    Better

    A registered vehicle may become disabled from time to time. In this situation an employee may apply at Parking Services for a temporary parking permit for an unregistered vehicle. The temporary permit allows the unregistered vehicle the same parking privileges as the employee’s registered vehicle.

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    Note:Please be advised that the policies and procedures used as examples in the CAM manual are often out of date and no longer applicable. They were chosen as examples when the CAM manual was revised in 1992. To access the current policies and procedures manuals, please go to http://www.asu.edu/aad/manuals.

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