About Robert's Rules of Order
April 10, 2000
General Henry M. Robert wrote four editions of the work that bears his name. The last of these, a complete overhaul of the 1876 original, was published in 1915 as Robert's Rules of Order Revised, or RROR for short. RROR went through two very minor revisions (so minor that they kept the same page numbering), the first appearing in 1943 and the second or "Seventy-fifth Anniversary Edition" in 1951. RROR was printed in a format small enough to fit in a pocket, so it was truly the "Pocket Manual of Rules of Order" that Robert originally intended.
To maintain copyright in what had become a family industry, Robert's heirs completely revised the work in the seventh edition, published in 1970 as Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (RRONR). This edition could no longer fit in a pocket, but it was still reasonably compact. The family continued to add to the book, however, and the current edition -- the ninth -- is over 700 pages of lawyerly, rambling prose. To be fair, I should note that some of this bulk is value added in the form of language that specifies useful things like procedures for writing corporate bylaws and rules for running political conventions, but I have to confess that I cannot bring myself to read the current edition, and refer to it only to consult sections pointed to from the commendably thorough index.
Like most corporate constitutions that use Robert's as their parliamentary authority, the OASIS bylaws contain a formula that automatically makes each new edition of Robert's the normative one, so in legal fact, it is the ninth edition that governs OASIS business. But while the ninth edition is the one that serves as our final authority, it's not where I go to answer most practical questions about procedure. When I have a question, I go to my copy of the 1951 edition. Aided by its shorter scope and clearer organization, I can find the answer to most ordinary procedural questions in under a minute.
In addition to being shorter than RRONR, RROR is written in an old-fashioned, no-nonsense, soldierly style that I personally find a lot easier to take than the bland corporate prose of the later editions. This is, of course, a matter of taste, but for committee use I would recommend ordering a copy of the 1915 RROR (now in the public domain), which can be obtained as a paperback reprint from Quill, ISBN 0-688-05306-8. Unfortunately, the text of the Quill reprint has been enlarged and printed on cheaper paper than in the original, and as a result, even this old version no longer fits in a pocket, but it is otherwise as good an authority on parliamentary procedure as you will find. Paperback reprints of editions published before the major revision of 1915 are not faithful guides to current practice and should be avoided.
The 1915 RROR is also available over the Internet beginning at http://www.constitution.org/rror/rror--00.htm.
This version has been reformatted to replace all the references to page numbers with links to sections instead, which makes it much easier to use online. For convenience, I have downloaded the entire book and put it in a single zip file at http://metalab.unc.edu/bosak/rror/rror.zip.
Just unzip this into a directory and start with rror--00.htm, taking care to preserve and abide by the copyright notice at the top of the file.