Word Choice – May, Should, or Must

Some writers are a little confused as to when to use may versus should versus must. However, golfers should find it easy as the rules of golf explain these words perfectly.

May = optional

Should = strongly recommend

Must = mandatory instruction (a penalty is involved)

Therefore, when the rules book state: “A ball on the putting green may be lifted and, if desired, cleaned,” it does not mean it has to be done. It is the choice of the player.

When it continues to state: “The position of the ball must be marked before it is lifted,” it means you cannot lift it without marking it. If you do, you incur a one-stroke penalty. (For non-golfers, this means you have to add another stroke to your score – something you don’t want to do.)

Another rule: “Each player should put an identification mark on his ball.” The player doesn’t have to; however, if you don’t do it, it may lead to potential trouble later, e.g., mistakenly hitting someone else’s ball. (This is something that must not be done.)

BizWritingTip believes you should apply these guidelines to your business writing. Otherwise, you may confuse your reader.