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taxpayers were searching for ways to defraud the Government and to wrongfully avoid paying their taxes. Many construed what we thought of as firm statements to be threats.
It communicated to some that the "burden of proof” meant proof that they were innocent of fraud, not proof that they were
entitled to an exemption or a dependency credit. Finally, we tended to rely so heavily on the WEIGHT OF THE LAW and on our authority under it that our writing did not always show clearly that we recognize, as an important part of our job, giving taxpayers clear, courteous explanations of the law and helping them meet its requirements.
The “modern style” is flexible. With it, we can accomplish all that we tried to do using the traditional style. All we need now is to adapt it to our needs. Doing so will pose some problems for us, but none that we can't resolve.
One problem will be trying to substitute new language and review habits for old. Breaking habits of any kind is hard. It requires sustained, disciplined effort. And the temptation is always present to slip back into the old, familiar habit. Like the cigarette smoker who has no trouble "stopping,” yet usually starts again, we have to work not only to acquire the new habits but to keep them.
Perhaps the hardest problem will be to mesh the efforts of all the people involved in the writing process—the executives, managers, supervisors, and professional employees. For though writing (as you know) is a highly individual activity, in Government it is also a group effort.
This is the reason the IRS Writing Improvement Program includes writing workshops for managers and supervisors as well as for originators.
Steps in Writing
The job of writing is much like the carrying out of the work assignment it represents. Both require you to—
• Prepare for the task
• Evaluate it (and, if necessary, make corrections). All three steps are necessary if the job is to be done well and represent professional work.
Before beginning work on an assignment, you need, of course, to PLAN— to pin down the specific purpose of the assignment, decide what needs to be done, identify the sources of the information you need, and map out your course of action. The more complex and significant the assignment, the more time and effort must be devoted to planning it. But even the most routine assignment requires at least minimum planning.
So with writing. You must plan before you write or dictate—pin down the purpose of the communication, select only the most pertinent of the facts involved, decide how to arrange them for the receiver, and how to express them so he will understand them.
As you near the end of your work assignment, you evaluate the work you've done to be sure you have done everything necessary and done it correctly.
The same with writing. Once you have written a communication (in draft or in final form), you need to evaluate it to be sure it can be relied on to do its job. You check it to see whether it is:
If, after evaluating your work, you find loose ends, gaps, or any errors, you make the necessary changes or additions before presenting or submitting it.
This step is even more necessary in writing, for revising is part of the writing process. Few writers are expert enough to produce a good communication with their first effort. The more complex and significant the communication, the more essential the revising or rewriting. Even routine writing often requires editing, though its being routine means that it is not really a “first effort.”
The steps that spell "power"
To make it easier to study these steps during the workshops, we expand the basic three to these five:
REVISE (edit) or REWRITE It's no accident that the initial letters spell POWER! That's to make it easy for you to remember them and to remind you that taking these five steps will help you put more power in your writing.
Planning the Writing
Time devoted to planning represents an investment instead of an expenditure. Here, judgment and disciplined effort are necessary—judgment in taking only the time essential to planning, and disciplined effort in changing work habits if you have not been accustomed to conscious planning.
Advantages of planning
Whether you are preparing a letter or a complex report, planning carefully before you write or dictate offers you and your reader many advantages; it
1. Spares you the distraction of trying to phrase ideas while you
are organizing your thinking. 2. Enables you to concentrate on one thought process at a time. 3. Lessens the probability of your omitting essential facts and
including unessential ones. 4. Increases the likelihood that your ideas will be logically
arranged and clearly expressed. 5. Increases the likelihood that your communication will do the
job it is intended to do. 6. Permits you to maintain a consistent and appropriate tone
throughout the communication. 7. Saves time—yours, the secretary's, the supervisor's and the
Your primary consideration-the receiver
Throughout your planning—whether you are writing a letter to a tax-
situation that involves him.
a. Give him only the background information that he needs
to, and quotations from, specific sections of the law, regula
tions, or manual) as he needs and will comprehend c. Give him only the facts he needs to make decisions or take
action d. Give him only the discussion or explanation necessary to
help him understand and accept your conclusions and/or recommendations and, if necessary, act on them.
This is a major point—requiring judgment and perception. Many communications fail because the writer RECORDS all the information he has taken into account in reaching his conclusion, instead of COMMUNICATING only the in
formation the reader needs. 3. Decide what approach is best designed to bring about the de
sired results—what “tone” and what language will be both clear to the reader and appropriate for the situation.
Planning a reply
Though planning is planning—just as someone once said that “Pigs is pigs”—planning a reply presents a somewhat different problem than planning a communication that you originate.
a. Read the incoming letter or memorandum carefully, under
scoring significant points or making marginal notes about them. Oddly enough, a comparison of our replies with the incoming document shows clearly that we do not always read the incoming item carefully—we overlook points raised and ignore questions that should be acknowledged
if not answered.
volved? Look beyond what the writer has said to what
to do, or what we should tell him we will do or have done. d. Consider what pattern of organization will best accomplish
your purpose; what tone is appropriate; what language will be both clear to the reader and suitable for the situation,
Planning the communication you originate
However inadequate the incoming letter or memorandum is, it at least gives you some idea of what your reader is like and what information he has and needs. It also gives you a framework for your reply.
When you originate a communication, however, you must rely on your experience in similar situations and on your ability to speculate about the receiver:
• how he will use the information
decide how much background information he will need and
(For the lay taxpayer, for example, with little knowledge of tax law, even a detailed discussion and explanation of the technical aspects or intricacies will be of little help. He lacks the “frame of reference” for it-has nothing to relate it to—and is usually confused more than helped by a lengthy explanation.)