Re: Use of voice in instructions

Subject: Re: Use of voice in instructions
From: Loren Castro <lfc -at- SOL -dot- CHINALAKE -dot- NAVY -dot- MIL>
Date: Thu, 21 Dec 1995 08:51:31 -0800

Rick Lippincott has some good advice:

> For those on the list who are in the U.S. you might want to consider
> going to the Government Printing Office and obtaining a copy of a
> Mil-Spec that covers publications. After all, if you're paying taxes
> to the U.S. Government, you've paid for the development of those specs.
> You might as well get some use from them.


These documents are not shining examples of writing, but each provides
good information about constructing a document in Section 4.

Military Specifications and Associated Documents, Preparation of

Military Standards, Handbooks, and Bulletins, Preparation of

Several years ago, I accidentally discovered a surprising Navy
instruction, SECNAVINST 5216.5C (24 Aug 1983), entitled at least in
part "Just Plain English." I've never seen the entire instruction,
but Chapter 1 (the only chapter I have and complete within itself)
provides the best practical advice for writing coherently that I
have ever seen. It is aimed primarily toward writers of letters
and other kinds of correspondence, but its advice applies to
technical writers as well. After all, we write letters, too.

This statement begins Section A The Need to Improve

1. Here is one reason to improve naval writing:

It is the policy of the shipyard commander that
all activities of the shipyard shall be carried
out in a manner that will ensure the protection
and enhancement of the environment through the
control and abatement of environmental pollution.

The sentence appears in a directive whose grammar, spelling,
and format are error free. But though the writing is perfectly
correct, it is perfectly awful. Wordy and pompous, the sentence
has misrepresented the disciplined officer who wrote it, misused
the modern word processor that typed it, and mistreated the many
readers who aren't allowed to throw it away.

How can you go wrong after an introduction like that?

For those who are interested, this is the best I can do:

Superintendent of Documents
U.S Government Printing Office
Washington, DC 20402

lfc -at- sol -dot- chinalake -dot- navy -dot- mil

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