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Writing About Regulations? Remember 'You and Yours'

So many people yearn to understand regulations right now. If you want to help, think of yourself as an interpreter. Less “copy and paste” and more “streamline and clarify.”

Here’s an underused tip: Make it all about “You.”

Let’s take the IRS’s attempt to explain a complex scheme involving inherited individual retirement accounts, or IRAs.

Now imagine trying to track this cast of characters: “Beneficiary” (singular). “Person or entity.” “He or she” for the owner. “Beneficiaries” (plural). “Their.” “They.” “Surviving spouse.” “Deceased spouse.” Back to “his or her,” now not for the owner or deceased spouse (they’re the same, by the way) but for the beneficiary. Or does “his or her” refer to the “surviving spouse”? Or are they the same, too? Wait, now we’re back to “himself or herself.” As in “surviving spouse”? Accompanied by the “beneficiary”? And who gets whatever belongs to the “his or her”? Is that also “of the beneficiary”?

Writing about regulations is one time you do want “Us vs. Them.” Or, more specifically, “You and Your” for the intended reader vs. “Anything but ‘You and Your'” for the rest of the crew.

Now just sprinkle in some active voice, swap “if” for “to the extent,” and add bullets and tabs. Here’s a new look in just minutes.

From your reader’s point of view, it’s now “You” against the world. As it should be.