WRITING AND WRITERS: STYLE AND WRITING MANUALS : UNITED STATES: GOVERNMENT: NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION: NARA Style Guide

David P. Dillard
 

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WRITING AND WRITERS: STYLE AND WRITING MANUALS :

UNITED STATES: GOVERNMENT:

NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION:

NARA Style Guide

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National Archives and Records Administration

NARA Style Guide

http://www.archives.gov/open/plain-writing/style-guide.pdf

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Preface

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Clear writing conveys clear thought. NARA writers in all offices must
strive for clear communication to explain their increasingly complex work.
They write letters, memorandums, finding aids, web pages, blogs, leaflets,
reports, articles, exhibit scripts, brochures, budget requests, speeches,
forms, and email messages. This style guide establishes agency standards
of punctuation, word usage, and grammar that will answer writers most c
ommon questions and will, we hope, promote clear and effective writing
throughout NARA.

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Style changes over time and even from place to place, depending on the
intended audience. These differences do not necessarily make one choice
?wrong.?
What is ?right? is consistency within your own work and using the appropriate
language and usage for your audience.

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The NARA Style Guide fills two needs. First, the section ?Writing for Plain
Language? will help us comply with the Plain Writing Act of 2010. Second,
it addresses many of the questions and issues unanswered by the Government
Printing Office Style Manual (GPO manual). This guide is based on the GPO
manual but includes modifications that reflect current usage.

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The most notable difference from the GPO manual concerns the treatment of
numbers. This style guide simplifies the rules. In most cases, writers will
spell out numbers under 10 and use numerals for numbers 10 and over.
(See section 4.10.)

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The GPO manual is still NARAs primary reference for style. For issues not
covered in the NARA guide, continue to consult the GPO manual.

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The appendix, ?Quick Reference,? may be particularly helpful to NARA writers.
This list of words and phrases provides quick answers to common questions a
bout capitalization, spelling, compound words, and plurals.

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The NARA Style Guide took shape from the agencys specific language needs
and will continue to change to reflect the needs and concerns of NARA writers.
Use the NARA Style Guide for all NARA communications.

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If you have questions about spelling, grammar, or usage that are not addressed
by this guide, contact the Strategy and Communications staff

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(SC, Mary Ryan: mary.ryan@..., telephone 202-357-5482).


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U.S. Government Printing Office
Style Manual: An official guide to the form and style
of Federal Government printing

http://www.archives.gov/open/plain-writing/style-guide.pdf


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Preface

..


Clear writing conveys clear thought. NARA writers in all offices must
strive for clear communication to explain their increasingly complex work.
They write letters, memorandums, finding aids, web pages, blogs, leaflets,
reports, articles, exhibit scripts, brochures, budget requests, speeches,
forms, and email messages. This style guide establishes agency standards
of punctuation, word usage, and grammar that will answer writers most c
ommon questions and will, we hope, promote clear and effective writing
throughout NARA.

..

Style changes over time and even from place to place, depending on the
intended audience. These differences do not necessarily make one choice
?wrong.?
What is ?right? is consistency within your own work and using the appropriate
language and usage for your audience.

..

The NARA Style Guide fills two needs. First, the section ?Writing for Plain
Language? will help us comply with the Plain Writing Act of 2010. Second,
it addresses many of the questions and issues unanswered by the Government
Printing Office Style Manual (GPO manual). This guide is based on the GPO
manual but includes modifications that reflect current usage.

..

The most notable difference from the GPO manual concerns the treatment of
numbers. This style guide simplifies the rules. In most cases, writers will
spell out numbers under 10 and use numerals for numbers 10 and over.
(See section 4.10.)

..

The GPO manual is still NARAs primary reference for style. For issues not
covered in the NARA guide, continue to consult the GPO manual.

..

The appendix, ?Quick Reference,? may be particularly helpful to NARA writers.
This list of words and phrases provides quick answers to common questions a
bout capitalization, spelling, compound words, and plurals.

..

The NARA Style Guide took shape from the agencys specific language needs
and will continue to change to reflect the needs and concerns of NARA writers.
Use the NARA Style Guide for all NARA communications.

..

If you have questions about spelling, grammar, or usage that are not addressed
by this guide, contact the Strategy and Communications staff

..


(SC, Mary Ryan: mary.ryan@..., telephone 202-357-5482).





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Helpful References

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PlainLanguage.gov

http://www.plainlanguage.gov

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Bremner, John B.
Words on Words.
New York: Columbia University Press, 1980.

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The Chicago Manual of Style.
16th ed.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.

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Cormier, Robin.
Error-Free Writing:
A Lifetime Guide to Flawless Business Writing.
Paramus, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1995.

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Editors of EEI Press,
E-What?:
A Guide to the Quirks of New Media Style and Usage.
Alexandria, VA: EEI Press, 2000.

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General Services Administration,
Standard and Optional Forms Procedural Handbook.
Washington, DC: GSA, July 2009.

http://www.gsa.gov/portal/forms/type/SF

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Gunning, Robert.
The Technique of Clear Writing.
New York: McGraw-Hill, rev. 1983.

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Lauchman, Richard.
Plain Style:
Techniques for Simple, Concise, Emphatic Business Writing.
New York: AMACOM, 1993.

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National Archives and Records Administration,
Guide for Preparing NARA Correspondence:
A Supplement to NARA 201 (June 13, 2005).

http://www.nara-at-work.gov/nara_policies_and_guidance/
directives/0200_series/word/corrguide.doc


OR


http://tinyurl.com/p9zmaol


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National Archives and Records Administration,
Office of the Federal Register,
Plain Language Tools.

http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/write/plain-language/

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National Archives and Records Administration,
Office of the Federal Register,
Drafting Legal Documents.

http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/write/legal-docs/index.html

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The New York Public Library
Writers Guide to Style and Usage.
New York: HarperCollins, 1994.

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Redish, Janice (Ginny).
Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works.
San Francisco: Morgan Kaufman, 2007.

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Strunk, William, Jr.
The Elements of Style. With revisions, an introduction,
and a chapter on writing
by E. B. White.
4th ed.
Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1999.
(commonly known as ?Strunk and White?)

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United States Government Printing Office
Style Manual.
Washington, DC: GPO, 2008.

http://www.gpoaccess.gov/stylemanual/browse.html


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Contents

1. Writing in Plain Language

1.1 Think about your audience

1.2 Organize your material

1.2.1 Use headings and subheadings

1.2.2 Limit heading levels to three or fewer

1.2.3 Write short sections

1.3 Verbs

1.3.1 Use the active voice (unless passive makes more sense)

1.3.2 Use the simplest form of the verb

1.3.3 Dont hide the verb

1.3.4 Dont use ?shall?

1.3.5 Avoid the false subjects It is and There are

1.3.6 Use contractions when appropriate

1.4 Nouns and pronouns

1.4.1 Use everyday words

1.4.2 Avoid ?noun strings?

1.4.3 Use pronouns

1.5 Omit unnecessary words

1.5.1 Write with a word, not a phrase

1.5.2 Avoid redundancy

1.5.3 Avoid intruding words

1.5.4 Dont ?double? terms

1.5.5 Beware basis, manner, fashion, and way

1.6 Sentences

1.6.1 Write short sentences

1.6.2 Place words carefully

1.6.3 Use idioms

1.6.4 Minimize the use of ?not?

2. Formatting for Readability

2.1 Understand that isolation is emphasis

2.2 Dont hesitate to use headings in any document

2.3 Isolate lead sentences

2.4 Feel free to write one-sentence paragraphs

2.5 Use standard typefaces for the text

2.6 Leave the right margin ragged

2.7 Leave plenty of white space

2.8 Use discretion with graphics

2.9 Use tables to present comparisons

2.10 Use vertical lists

2.11 Use footnotes and endnotes for explanatory or peripheral information iv

2.12 Adjust established formats when necessary

3. Writing and Formatting Email

3.1 Think before sending

3.2 Use the subject field

3.3 Be cautious about using special type styles

3.4 Be judicious when capitalizing words

3.5 Keep paragraphs short

3.6 Maintain a businesslike tone

4. Usage and Style

4.1 Abbreviations and Symbols

4.1.1 Geographic locations

4.1.2 United States / U.S.

4.1.3 Personal titles

4.1.4 Citations

4.1.5 Typographic symbols

4.2 Acronyms

4.3 Addresses

4.4 Capitalization

4.4.1 Geographic terms

4.4.2 Military terms

4.4.3 NARA forms, directives, and notices

4.4.4 Organizations

4.4.5 Personal titles

4.5 Compounds

4.5.1 Prefixes

4.5.2 Compound adjectives

4.5.3 Compound nouns

4.5.4 Suspended compounds

4.5.5 References to ethnicity

4.6 Computer-related terms

4.7 Dates

4.8 Grammar reminders

4.8.1 Subject/verb agreement

4.8.2 Prepositions and pronouns

4.9 Gender-neutral language

4.10 Numbers

4.11 Plurals

4.12 Possessives

4.13 Problem words and phrases

4.14 Punctuation

4.14.1 Apostrophe

4.14.2 Colons and semicolons

4.14.3 Comma

4.14.4 Dash

4.14.5 Ellipses

4.14.6 Parentheses

4.14.7 Quotation marks

4.15 References to NARA

4.16 Titles of works: italics or quotation marks


Appendix: Quick Reference

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1. Writing in Plain Language

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Writing in plain language means writing clearly.
It means writing so that readers can
find what they need, understand what they find,
and use what they find to meet their needs.
The more clearly you communicate, the more likely
your readers will grasp what you want them to grasp
and do what you want them to do, from filling out a
form correctly to complying with a regulation.
And the less likely it is that your readers will
call or write you to ask questions or express
frustration.

Ultimately, your job will be easier and more pleasant
if you take the time to communicate clearly.

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1.1 Think about your audience.

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A misconception about plain language is that it means
?dumbing down? your writing so that everyone can read it.
Thats not true. The first rule of plain language is
write for your audience.
That starts with figuring out who your audience is,
then focusing on your audiences needs. Here are some
questions to ask yourself:
Who is my audience? What does my audience already know
about the subject? What does my audience need to know?
Whats the best way to guide them from their current
knowledge to what they need to know? What questions will
my audience have? What language will my audience be most
familiar with?

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1.2 Organize your material.

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Were all busyincluding your readers. Nobody wants to
waste time slogging through dense, convoluted documents.
Write so that your readers can read your document quickly
and understand it the first time they read it.

Before you start writing, think about what you want to say
and what order it makes the most sense to say it.

Organize to serve your audiences needs.

Think about the questions your audience will have and the
order in which those questions will most naturally arise.


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1.2.1 Use headings and subheadings.



Use headings and subheadings to indicate (1) where the
important ideas are and (2) where major separations of
thought occur. Think of headings as signs along the
highway. Readers depend on such signs as much as drivers
do. A 20-mile stretch of interstate without any signs
would be spooky and aggravating.

There are three types of headings: question headings,
statement headings, and topic headings.

Question headings (for example, How Do I Locate the Records
I Want?) are particularly useful in letters and general
instructions. Readers move through the document with
particular questions in mind, and question headings guide
them to the answers. Phrase the question headings from the
reader's point of view. In other words, use Will I Be
Charged for the Service? rather than Will You Be Charged
for the Service?

Statement headings are short declarative sentences
(for example, Lodging Is Available Nearby) and are the
next most engaging.

Topic headings (the most common form) are considered the
most ?formal,? so management is often most comfortable with
them. Topic headings consist of a word or phrase
(e.g., Requesting Records), but they are not engaging and
are often so vague as to be unhelpful. If topic headings
are to be used, make sure they are clear and accurate.



1.2.2 Limit heading levels to three or fewer.



While headings are useful for organizing your text,
dont use more than three levels.

Dividing your document into more pieces at the top levels
should allow you to limit subdivisions below the major
level to two. In most cases, you will need only the main
heading and one level of subheading.

The Office of the Federal Register recommends that
regulations contain no more than three levels, noting that
more than three levels make regulations hard to read and use.



1.2.3 Write short sections.
Long paragraphs are daunting and discourage the reader from
even trying to understand your material. Short paragraphs
are more inviting and are easier to read and understand.



3



Each paragraph should discuss one main idea, not two.
But if the idea requires 20 sentences to develop, that
doesnt mean you should have a 20-sentence paragraph.

Find places to break lengthy paragraphs.

If a paragraph is long, the writer will certainly have
provided transitional terms in at least a few places.

For example, the writer may have started sentences with
such words and phrases as Next, Furthermore, In addition,
However, or As a result. Paragraphs can also begin with
these transitions. Just make sure that the resulting
smaller paragraphs are unified in themselves.

Short paragraphs also give you the opportunity to insert
informative headings into your material.



1.3 Verbs



1.3.1 Use the active voice (unless passive makes more sense).
Active voice is the best way to identify who is responsible
for what action.



In an active sentence, the person or organization thats
acting is the subject of the sentence. In a passive sentence,
the person or item that is acted upon is the subject of the
sentence. Passive voice obscures who is responsible for what
and is one of the biggest problems with government documents.



Passive
Active
Mistakes were made.



The committee made mistakes.
New regulations were proposed.
NARA proposed new regulations.



Especially in directives, regulations, or instructions,
use the active voice to make it clear to the reader
who takes what action.



Passive
Active

The form is sent to Business Support Services.

The executive sends the form to Business Support Services.

The request will be approved by Information Services.

Information Services approves the request.

The following information must be included.

You must include the following information.



4



More than any other writing technique, using active voice and
specifying who is performing what action will change the
character of your writing. However, to say that the passive
voice must be avoided at all cost would mean that we could
never write She was born but must always write Her mother bore
her. When the actor is understood, implied, or irrelevant, use
the passive voice, as in the following example.

Meteorologists are predicting snow. Snow is predicted.



The passive voice is acceptable whenever the emphasis of the
sentence should not be on the actor but rather on what was, is,
or will be done. Any of the following sentences could be just
fine, depending upon which word the writer thinks deserves emphasis.



Passive

Active



We were amazed by the results.

The results amazed us.

Materials must be handled with care.

You must handle materials with care.

Your shipment has been received.

We have received your shipment.

Many documents must be declassified.

We must declassify many documents.



The passive voice may also be appropriate when one action follows
another as a matter of law, and there is no actor (besides the
law itself) for the second action.

If you do not pay the royalty on your mineral production, your
lease will be terminated.



1.3.2 Use the simplest form of the verb.



The simplest and strongest form of a verb is present tense.

Using the present tense makes your document more direct and
forceful and less complicated. The more you use conditional or
future tense, the harder your audience has to work to understand
your meaning.

These sections describe types of information that would satisfy
the application requirements of Circular A-110 as it would apply
to this grant program.
These sections tell you how to meet the requirements of Circular
A-110 for this grant program.

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1.3.3 Dont hide the verb.

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Verbs are the heart of clear writing. They tell what happened or
tell the reader what to do. Avoid hiding verbs by turning them
into nouns. Turning verbs into nouns makes them less effective
and requires you to use more words than necessary.

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Watch out for the words make, do, give, have, provide, perform,
and conduct, which often indicate that a verb has been turned
into a noun.

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We made the decision to We decided
They did a study of They studied
This gives the indication that This indicates
This has the tendency to This tends
He provided an explanation He explained
They performed an assessment of They assessed
She conducted a review of She reviewed
Have researchers show Ask researchers to show

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1.3.4 Dont use shall.

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Avoid the ambiguous shall. The word can suggest obligation or
simply a future event. Good business writing never forces the
reader to interpret.

For obligation, use ?must.?



When you examine records, you must keep them in their
original order.

For permission, use ?may.?

You may bring a coin purse or wallet into the research room.

When recommending a course of action, use ?should.?

You and your financial institution should agree on how invoice
information will be provided to you.

When indicating the future, use ?will.?

Our facility will reopen on September 1.

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1.3.5 Avoid the false subjects It is and There are.

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It is shown in the photographs The photographs show

It was proven by the research The research proved

It will be argued by the plaintiff The plaintiff will argue

There are times when Occasionally/Sometimes

There were delays due to Delays were caused by

There will be complications unless Complications will occur unless

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It is her opinion that there are several issues that need
to be resolved.

She believes that several issues need to be resolved.

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1.3.6 Use contractions when appropriate.

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When appropriate, use contractions to foster a conversational tone.

While contractions make text less formal, very few documents are
purely formal. (An exception is the wedding invitation, in which
even the number of the street address is spelled out.)



This office will put forth utmost effort to accommodate the needs
of researchers.
Better: We'll do our best to accommodate your research needs.
It is the hope of everyone at the Hoover Library that researchers
have benefited from their visit.
Better: We hope you've enjoyed your visit.

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Note: Be consistent within a given document and avoid informality
when informality is inappropriate. Press releases, public
announcements, letters to individuals, and information packets are
good candidates for using contractions. Official policy statements
and directives can be more formal.

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1.4 Nouns and pronouns

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1.4.1 Use everyday words.



Clarity begins with the choice of words. When a writer describes
an elevator as a vertical transportation system, or refers to a
leak as a moisture event, clarity goes out the door.
Rather than using subsequent to, use after. Rather than taking a
proactive position vis-vis the problematic situation, the writer
anticipates the problem.

Write to communicate, not to impress. Avoid unnecessarily complicated
language used to impress, rather than inform, your audience.
That doesnt mean you need to avoid necessary technical terms,
if your audience is familiar with them.

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snip

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The complete publication may be read at the URL above.

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Sincerely,
David Dillard
Temple University
(215) 204 - 4584
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