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The Style of Official Documents

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  2. Operational Documents

It is sometimes called “officialese”. This FS is not homogeneous and is represented by the following substyles or variants:

1. The language of business documents.

2. The language of legal documents.

3. The language of diplomacy.

4. The language of military documents.

Like other styles of language, this style has a definite communicative aim and, accordingly, has its own system of interrelated language and stylistic means. The main aim of this type of communication is to state the conditions binding two parties in an undertaking. These parties may be: the state and the citizen; a society and its members (statute or ordinance); two or more enterprises or bodies (business correspondence or contracts); two or more governments (pacts, treaties); a person in authority and a subordinate (orders, regulations, instructions, authoritative directives); a board or presidium and an assembly or general meeting (procedure acts, minutes) etc.

The aim of communication in this style of language is to reach agreement between two contracting parties. Even protest against violation of statutes, contracts, regulations, etc., can also be regarded as a form by which normal cooperation is sought on the basis of previously attained concordance. This most general function of the style of official documents predetermines the peculiarities of the style.

The most striking though not the most essential feature is a special system of clichés, terms and set expressions by which each substyle can easily be recognized, for example: I beg to inform you, I beg to move, I second the motion, provisional agenda, the above-mentioned, on behalf of, private advisory, Dear Sir.

In fact, each of the subdivisions of this style has its own peculiar terms, phrases and expressions which differ from the corresponding terms, phrases and expressions of other variants of this style.

Likewise, other varieties of official language have their special nomenclature, which is conspicuous in the text and therefore easily discernible as belonging to the official language style.

Besides the special nomenclature characteristic of each variety of the style, there is a feature common of all these varieties – the use of abbreviations, conventional symbols and contractions, for example:

M.P. (Members of Parliament), GVT (government), H.M.S. (His Majesty’s Steamship), $ (dollar), LTD (limited).

Abbreviations are particularly abundant in military documents. Here they are used not only as conventional symbols but as signs of the military code, which is supposed to be known only to the initiated. Examples are:

D.A.O. (Divisional Ammunition Officer);

Adv. (advance)

Atk. (attack);


A/T (anti-tank);

ATAS (Air Transport Auxiliary Service).

Another feature of the style is the use of words in their logical dictionary meaning. In military documents sometimes metaphorical names are given to mountains, rivers, hills or villages, but these metaphors are perceived as code signs and have no aesthetic value, as in:

“2.102 d. Inf. Div. Continues atk. 26 Feb. 45 to captive objs. Spruce Peach and Cherry and prepares to take over objs Plum and apple after capture by CCB, 5th armd. Div.”

Words with emotive meaning are not to be found in the style of official documents either.

Perhaps the most noticeable of all syntactical features are the compositional patterns of the variants of this style. Thus business letters have a definite compositional pattern, namely, the heading giving the address of the writer, the date, the name of the addressee and his address.

Here is a sample of a business letter:

Smith and Sons

25Main Street


9th February, 1977

Mr. John Smith

29 Cranbourn Street



Dear Sir,

We beg to inform you that by order and for account of Mr. Julian

of Leeds, we have taken the liberty of drawing upon you for $25 at

three months’ date to the order of Mr. Sharp. We gladly take this

opportunity of placing our services at your disposal, and shall be

pleased if you frequently make use of them.


Respectfully yours,

Smith and Sons

By Jane Crawford.


Almost every official document has its own compositional design. Pacts and statues, orders and minutes, notes and memoranda – all have more or less definite forms, and it will not be an exaggeration to state that the form of the document is itself informative, inasmuch as it tells something about the matter dealt with (a letter, an agreement, an or an order etc.)

All code of the official style falls into a system of subcodes, each characterized by its own terminological nomenclature, its own compositional form, its own variety of syntactical arrangements. But the integrating features of all these subcodes, emanating from the general aim of agreement between parties remain as following:

a. conventionality of expression;

b. absence of any emotiveness;

c. the encoded character of language symbols (including abbreviations) ;

d. a general syntactical mode of combining several pronouncements into one sentence.

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