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What's the difference between "in accordance with," "per," and "pursuant to?" Which is the best to use?

"In accordance with," "per" and "pursuant to" are all lousy choices you should never use. They are symptoms of unclear writing and signs of bigger problems with your sentence.

Those phrases are pompous, old-fashioned legal jargon that all result from the constant use of passive voice constructions. If you can't identify passive voice constructions and don't know why they confuse your readers, then please read "If you can't identify a passive voice construction, you might be dangerous.".

Let's look at two real-life examples that show the nasty marriage between those three phrases and passive voice constructions. Most people, including some trained writers, incorrectly think both are examples of effective, harmless writing:

Example #1:
Findings requiring additional action will be processed pursuant to Order 1000.

The passive voice here is "be processed" which doesn't tell the reader "who must process." The phrase "pursuant to" tries to clarify that, but doesn't succeed. One good way to clean this mess is to remove "pursuant to" and use pronouns to kill the passive voice, as shown below:

If you get findings for which you must take additional action, then follow Order 1000.

Example #2:
Inspectors are authorized in accordance with paragraph 3 to use Form 8130.

The passive voice phrase "are authorized" doesn't tell the reader "who authorized the inspectors?" The phrase "in accordance with" again tries to fix that problem, but does a weak job of it. Why use it at all? Try this—

Paragraph 3 authorizes inspectors to use Form 8130-3.

Though unlikely, there may be legal differences between the words "in accordance with," "per" and "pursuant to." Your local attorney can wrestle with that question. But why bother? The next time you consider any of those three phrases, remember that they aren't plain language and usually signal a more serious problem in your sentence.

For her significant contributions to this article, the author thanks Kathryn Catania, Division Chief, Plain Language and Content, Office of Communications, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

If you've got comments or questions about this, please contact:

Dr. Bruce V. Corsino
FAA Plain Language Program Manager
Phone: 202-493-4074

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