As a legal writer, Garner also advocates clear, concise writing in legal documents ... and other types of documents. This article focuses on use of shall in legal documents, but its advice is worth heeding for other writing.
My own practice is to delete shall in all legal instruments and to replace it with a clearer word more characteristic of American English: must, will, is, may or the phrase is entitled to. ...
shall Avoid this formal, ambiguous, pretentious word:My manual also provides advice on other related verbs: can, may; may, might; should, would; will, would.
- Try dropping use of any pronoun.
- Use is when something is fact: The senior editor is [not shall be] responsible for reviewing all documents for clarity and consistency.
- Use may instead to give permission: Members may borrow up to three CDs a month.
- Use must instead to express legal obligation: Tenants must pay rent by the 15th of each month.
- Use have to, must, need to or required instead to express other requirements: Each student is required to take the exam.
- Use should when recommending a course of action: We should move ahead with the project by Friday.
- Use will instead to express what someone plans to do or expects: I will be there. We will meet. You will like it. She will not be pleased.
Garner's column is featured today, Dec. 28, in my online daily paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs, available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.