Michael Gove, the justice secretary, has issued his civil servants with detailed orders on using good grammar, two years after he circulated similar “golden rules” to officials in the Department for Education.
The senior cabinet minister has wasted little time since his appointment after the general election in telling his staff how he wants them to draft letters and briefing papers.
The instructions tell officials to write “make sure” instead of “ensure” and to avoid using the word “impact” as a verb. He is also unhappy with the use of contractions, such as “doesn’t”, and the deployment of “yet” and “however” at the beginning of sentences.
It suggests that “the phrases best-placed and high-quality are joined with a dash, very few others are” and discourages unnecessary capitalisation and repetition.
The new guidelines, entitled Ministerial Correspondence Preferences, were first seen by the Independent on Sunday, which pointed out that some of Gove’s own sentences in articles published when he was a journalist started with “however”.
The guidance appears to be an expansion of his “10 golden rules” that he circulated to the DfE in 2013, which included advice such as “if in doubt, cut it out” and “read it out loud – if it sounds wrong, don’t send it”.
He encouraged staff in his former department to “read the great writers to improve your own prose – George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh, Jane Austen and George Eliot, Matthew Parris and Christopher Hitchens”.
There appears to be a trend of Conservative ministers issuing guidance on how they like their departments’ business to be conducted. In 2012 the then environment secretary Owen Paterson issued a 10-point list which included a ban on his department’s officials starting sentences with “and” or “but”.
Justine Greening, as transport secretary in 2011, had her officials draft a five-page instruction manual on grammar and style, which stated that she did not approve of the use of adverbs or abbreviations in official documents.
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