Topic 8: Writing in Plain English, Part 1

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Which Word Shall We Use?


Shall is an ambiguous word. It can mean must or will. While “shall” cannot mean “should” or “may,” many writers and organizations use it incorrectly.

The DPKO/DFS Guidance Development Drafting Tips recommend the following uses:

Activity Level Type of Language Terms to Use
Mandatory activity Highly prescriptive Shall or shall not
Recommended but not compulsory activity Less prescriptive Should or should not
Optional activities with a high degree of flexibility in implementation Discretionary May or may not