Why We Need to Avoid Using "Shall"

Finally, I’ve found a concrete example showing why we should avoid the use of “shall” in writing. (yes, even legal writing)

While attending the PLAIN conference, I had the pleasure of hearing a presentation from Joseph Kimble, a leading international expert on plain language use in business, government and law. He spoke on his work in redrafting the US Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Federal Rules of Evidence. This redrafting process eliminated 500 “shalls” from the rules.

You would guess that all of the “shalls” became “musts”. It’s a common thought that the meanings are the same. However, that was only so for 375 times. The remaining 125 “shalls” were replaced by either “may” or “should”.

So, the next time you think you want to use the word “shall”, ask yourself if it’s possible to use “must”, “should” or “may” to be more specific. 

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By Marie Antaya, CTDP

Author of The Eclectic Writing Series.