Policy Writing Style Guide

On this page:

Good policies are easy to read and help readers:

  • Find what they need
  • Understand what they find
  • Use what they find to meet their needs

Follow These Best Practices

Use plain language and common words that can be easily understood by everyone

  • Create a policy the reader will understand the first time and in the way you intended
  • Use clear, precise and straightforward language so that busy readers understand the message
  • Simple words are easier and faster to read for all levels of readers and will aid in understanding
  • Communicate simply, directly, honestly, helpfully
Try To Avoid Write Instead
The university seeks to promote and increase participation of underrepresented suppliers and contractors in the procurement process with a program that reflects the broad diversity of our local New York State communities and to become more inclusive of the variety of locally relevant businesses that encounter difficulties with market entry, customer access, and financial growth. The university seeks to promote and increase participation of New York State businesses that encounter difficulties with market entry, customer access, and financial growth.

Write in the present tense with a positive tone

Try To Avoid Write Instead
Staff may be unaware that the regulations require written consent from the participant. The regulations require written consent from the participant.

Write in the active voice, rather than the passive voice

  • Writing in the active-voice provides clear and direct guidance
  • In an active-voice sentence, the subject of the sentence performs the action
  • In a passive-voice sentence, the subject of the sentence receives the action
  • Passive-voice sentences are often longer
Try To Avoid Write Instead
Regulations have been proposed by the Department of Labor. The Department of Labor proposed regulations.
The solution was developed by the manager.

The manager developed the solution.

There was a review of the proposal and a ruling by the committee, but no explanation was offered for their decision. The committee reviewed and ruled on the proposal, but did not explain its decision.

Write short sentences

  • Short sentences convey complex information in easy-to-understand units
  • Separate the idea into its parts and make each the subject of its own sentence
  • Longer sentences demand greater concentration from the reader and may make the meaning difficult to follow
  • Wordy, dense documents are confusing to the reader
  • Omit unnecessary and redundant words
  • Eliminate grammatical clutter
Try To Avoid Write Instead
Built on the efforts of campus policy and procedure "owners," this site is designed to make policy and procedure information widely accessible so that members of the campus community can make decisions and streamline campus administrative processes with the knowledge that their actions conform with official campus policies and procedures. This is the official web site for university policies.

Use as few words as possible to state the principle

Try To Avoid Write Instead
All university faculty and staff, under the leadership of its officers, are obligated to ensure that university funds are used only for mission-related purposes.
University funds must be used for mission-related purposes.
Until such time as we are in possession of more information, we will be unable to offer a satisfactory reply to your inquiry. Until we know more, we cannot answer your question.

Place the most important part of the sentence or paragraph at the beginning

  • Long lead-in clauses push the key message toward the end of the sentence
Try To Avoid Write Instead
Use of the UB owned fiber optic cable plant, known as the UB Regional Fiber Network, is governed by the relationship that the university has with current and prospective partner institutions in support of UB’s outreach mission to deepen UB’s impact and outreach in the regional community, strengthening programs and partnership and contribute to the social, cultural and economic vitality of Western New York. The University at Buffalo provides access to the UB-owned fiber optic cable plant to deepen the university’s impact and outreach in the regional community and strengthen programs and partnerships that contribute to the economic vitality of Western New York.

Use bulleted lists

List each item so that it makes a complete thought when read with the introductory text.

Bulleted lists:

  • Highlight or emphasize a series of requirements or other complex information in a visually clear way
  • Allow readers to scan for information
  • Help readers focus on important material
  • Facilitate reading comprehension

Use tables or charts

Tables and charts:

  • Organize information so that it is easier to understand
  • Help the reader see relationships that may be hidden in dense text
  • Help the user focus on important material
  • Allow readers to scan for information

Use verbs instead of nouns from verbs

  • Verbs express action and are often the most important part of sentences
  • Be aware of words ending in “ion” as they are usually the verb in noun form (e.g., notification, application, identification)
Try To Avoid Write Instead
The project manager has the responsibility for the creation of the safety manual. The project manager is responsible for creating the safety manual.
Reserachers conducted an investigation into the problem. Researchers investigated the problem.

Use gender-neutral language

Try To Avoid Write Instead
chairman chair, chair person
policeman police officer
workman worker

Avoid stating the subject negatively and the verb positively

Try To Avoid Write Instead
No demonstration project will be approved unless all application requirements are met. A demonstration project will be approved only if the applicant meets all requirements.
No single prize in any raffle may exceed $100,000. A single prize in any raffle may not exceed $100,000.

Avoid legalese

Try To Avoid Write Instead
aforementioned previous
during such time as while
for the duration of during
in as much as since
shall / shall not must / must not

Avoid redundant words

Try To Avoid Write Instead
mutual cooperation cooperation
uniformly consistent consistent
past history history

Avoid wordy phrases

Try To Avoid Write Instead
a percentage of some
due to the fact that because
in the event that if
on a monthly basis monthly
allows you to
pertaining to about

Develop procedures and guidelines, if needed, and maintain on a departmental website

Procedures are a set of instructions, steps or methods for the implementation, enforcement or administration of a university policy. Typically, procedures clarify complex aspects of the policy and are:

  • Action-oriented, step-by-step descriptions outlining who will accomplish a task, how it is performed and when it must be done
  • Intended to ensure control activities are accomplished completely and consistently
  • Not considered to be policy in and of themselves
  • Created at the unit level
    • Changes do not go through the same review and approval process as policies
    • Procedures that impact multiple units may need additional review and feedback before being implemented


  • Provides a framework within which to implement policies
  • Includes general statements, recommendations, instructions or best practices to achieve policy objectives
  • Can change based on the environment
  • Should be reviewed frequently
Policies Procedures
Adress major operational issues Detail a process
Have widespread application Have a narrower focus
Are non-negotiable, change infrequently
Are subject to change and continuous improvement
Are expressed in broad terms Are more detailed descriptions of activities
Are statements of what and why
Are statement of how, when and who

Follow the UB Style Guide

  • Avoid unnecessary capitalization
    • Use lowercase “university” when referring to the University at Buffalo
    • Use lowercase "internet"
    • Use lowercase "website," one word
  • URLs
    • Don’t include https://www unless it is essential for calling up the website; usually the simple web address will suffice, for example, buffalo.edu

Avoid the words "should," "shall," and "ensure"

  • "Should" implies that an action may not be necessary
  • "Shall" imposes an obligation to act, but may be confused with prediction of future action
  • Use must for an obligation or necessity to act
  • Use must not for a prohibition
  • Using "ensure" is problematic as the university generally cannot ensure actions of its community members
    • consider whether the words "to achieve" may be used
Try To Avoid Write Instead
Faculty, staff and students should not smoke in class. Smoking is prohibited in univesity buildings.

Avoid jargon and overly technical descriptions

  • Use the level of technical language that most effectively communicates with your audience
  • Spell out acronyms the first time they are used
  • Use terms consistently within the policy and across related policies

Pay attention to punctuation, especially the correct use of commas and periods

  • Commas and periods regulate the flow of thoughts
  • Misuse of commas and periods can make text confusing, even if the words are accurate and clear
  • When writing policy, use the Oxford (or serial) comma to improve clarity

Contact an Expert

Pam Lojacono.

Pamela Lojacono

Policy and Operational Excellence

Phone: 716-645-6070

Email: plojacon@buffalo.edu

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