Hennepin County writing guide

This guide provides answers to common writing and editing questions and helps to foster consistency in Hennepin County communications.

We strongly encourage the use of clear, concise language. In most instances, it's not only easier to understand, it's more accurate. By avoiding jargon and by using concise sentences you make it easier for all residents, regardless of education or literacy, to access essential county services.

Questions or suggestions?

For usage questions or if you have tips or words that you think should be added here, please contact Brian Lieb at brian.lieb@hennepin.us.

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Word list

Use the lists below to find correct spelling, capitalization, punctuation and hyphenation of commonly-used terms.

Hennepin County terms

board — Lowercase when used by itself (e.g., the board). Capitalize only when part of of the official name (e.g., Board of Commissioners).

Hennepin County Board of Commissioners — Note capitalization. After the first reference, use lowercase (e.g., the board, or the commissioners).

board of commissioners — Lowercase, unless using the full, official title.

Commissioner / commissioner — Capitalize this term when used before a name (e.g., Commissioner Jane Brown). On further references, use the commissioner (note lowercase) or Brown (only last name is needed on second reference); not Commissioner Brown. Lowercase when used without a name or when listed after a name (e.g., Jane Brown, commissioner).

  • When designating a commissioner district, use the capitalized term District followed by a numeral (e.g., Commissioner Jane Brown, District 1).

chair — The board elects a chair, not a chairmanchairwoman or chairperson. Capitalize the term when used with the full title, preceding a name (e.g., Hennepin County Board of Commissioners Chair Jane Brown). Lowercase in other situations (e.g., the chair, board chair, etc.).

committees and boards — When writing for the public, generally avoid including the names of committees or boards and instead describe the work being done. If you must specify the committee or board, only capitalize when naming the full, official name (e.g., Health and Human Services Committee, HCMC Governing Board). After the first reference, simply use the committee or the board (note lowercase).

county — Lowercase when used without Hennepin (i.e., Hennepin County).

countywide — One word, no hyphen when use for an internal audience. If writing for a public audience and referring to a geographic region, use throughout the county instead.

courts — Lowercase, unless using the full, official title — Fourth Judicial District Court. Use the court on further references. See "Fourth Judicial District Court" below for more information.

  • Only capitalize specialty courts when using the full title (e.g., Fourth Judicial District Family Court, Fourth Judicial District Juvenile Court). Lowercase specialty courts without the full title (e.g., family court, juvenile court).

departments and offices — When writing for the public, generally avoid including the names of departments or offices. Instead, use terms like the county or program (note lowercase). If you must specify the department or office, only capitalize when naming the full, official department or office name (e.g., Resident and Real Estate Services Department, Office of Budget and Finance). Capitalize Department and Office when part of the official title.

District — Capitalize the word District only when including the commissioner or legislative district number (e.g., District 2, District 5, Fourth Judicial District Court).

divisions and programs — When writing for the public, generally avoid including the names of divisions and programs and instead describe the work being done. If you must specify the division or program, use lowercase. The only reason to capitalize is if a division or program name is non-descriptive or if it has been branded with capitalization to a large audience.

Fourth Judicial District Court — This is the official title of the courts in Hennepin County. Note capitalization.

  • Do not use "Hennepin County District Court.

Hennepin — Do not use “Hennepin” without “County.” We are Hennepin County, not Hennepin.

Hennepin County Library — When describing branches, include the phrase Hennepin County Library followed by a dash then the location (e.g., Hennepin County Library — Maple Grove, Hennepin County Library — Eden Prairie, etc.). When not using the full, official title, use lowercase for the word library (e.g., Edina library).

Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) — After the first reference, use HCMC or the Medical Center. Capitalize Medical Center when referring to the organization; lowercase when referring to the building.

Hennepin-University Partnership (HUP) — Note the hyphen. After the first reference, use the partnership.

Job titles — Capitalize formal job titles when used immediately before a name, but lowercase titles when used alone or in constructions that set them off from a name by commas. Use lowercase at all times for terms that are job descriptions rather than formal titles.

  • County Board Chair John Jones (formal title before a name)
  • John Jones, board chair (title separated by a comma)
  • The director (formal title used alone)

Following are official titles of key county leaders:

  • County Administrator David J. Hough
  • Deputy Administrator (Health and Human Services) Jennifer DeCubellis 
  • Assistant County Administrator (Human Services) Rex Holzemer 
  • Assistant County Administrator (Operations) Judy Regenscheid
  • Assistant County Administrator (Public Works) Carl Michaud 
  • Assistant County Administrator (Public Safety) Mark S. Thompson
  • County Attorney Mike Freeman
  • County Sheriff Richard W. Stanek

library — Lowercase, unless using the full, official title. See "Hennepin County Library" above.

locations/facilities — Capitalize the official name of the building/facility, then use the terms the building, the facility, etc. on further references (e.g., Adult Corrections Facility > the facility).

  • Government Center: The official name is the Hennepin County Government Center. Use capitalized Government Center on further references.
    • Do not use the abbreviation PSL. Visitors do not know what it means and most services are no longer offered on this level. Instead, use skyway level (note lowercase).
  • Service Centers: Only capitalize when including the location (e.g., Ridgedale Service Center). On second reference use service center.
  • City Hall/courthouse: The official name is the Municipal Building. On second reference use the building.
  • Towers and levels in the Government Center — Capitalize only the first letter of the tower or level (e.g., Administration tower, C-tower, A-level).
  • Rooms — In most instances, use lowercase  (e.g., meeting room A404, employee training room).
    • If a room is named after a person, capitalize the name only (e.g., Mark E. Johnson conference room)
  • For libraries, see “Library” above.
  • For HCMC, see “Hennepin County Medical Center” above.

NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center — Note capital “P” in NorthPoint. Use the center on second reference. 

PSL — Do not use. Use skyway level instead.

Sheriff’s Office — Capitalized. On second reference use the office. Note: Only the elected Hennepin County Sheriff is referred to as sheriff. Other officers are referred to as deputy/deputies. The term sheriff is only capitalized when used as a formal job title immediately preceding the name of the current county sheriff.

Internet terms

  • Capitalize the following:
    • URL
    • World Wide Web
    • WWW
  • Use lowercase for:
    • blog
    • extranet
    • internet
    • intranet
    • online
    • web
    • webcam
    • webcast
    • webmaster
    • website
  • Spell email without a hyphen.
    • All other "e" words use a hyphen between the "e" and root words (e.g., e-subscribe, e-gov, e-seminar, etc.). Do not capitalize "e" or the root word unless in a title. Never use lowercase "e" with capitalized root word.
  • Include email addresses and URLs within the text (if linking to short, intuitive URLs).
    • Good: “For more information, send an email to john.doe@hennepin.us.”
    • Good: “Information about SHAPE is available at www.hennepin.us/shape.”
    • Not good: “For more information, click here.”

A to Z list

A   B   C   D   E   F   G   H   I   J   K   L   M   N   O   P   Q   R   S   T   U   V   W   X   Y   Z

A

a lot — Two words; not alot.

acronyms — Generally, avoid using unless you are sure that your audience understands and expects them. When using acronyms, use all caps, no spaces, and do not include periods (e.g., CPR, USA, SUV).

academic degrees — See entries for bachelor's degree, master's degree, and Ph.D.

accept (v.), except (adj.) — Accept means to receive or agree with. Except means apart from or to exclude.

addresses — See the Grammar 101 section on numbers.

a.m. — Lowercase, with no space after first period. Include a space between the number and a.m. (e.g., 9 a.m.).

add-on (n., adj.), add on (v.) — Note hyphen when used as a noun or adjective. Two words when used as a verb. Examples:

  • Noun: Add-ons cost an additional $10.
  • Verb: To add on more features, you will be charged an additional $10.

affect, effectAffect is normally used as a verb, meaning to influence (e.g., Taxes affect spending.) or to make a show of or pretend (e.g., She affected cheerfulness to hide her concern.). Effect is most often used as a noun, meaning result (e.g., His warning had no effect.). As a verb, effect means to bring about or accomplish (e.g., We can effect change only through compromise.).

African American — Current recommendation is to use two words, no hyphen. This term may be used interchangeably with black. But note: The term black applies to any person of African descent; African American applies only when you know for certain that the person is American and not Canadian, Haitian, or another nationality.

Ampersand — Avoid. Use and instead.

all right — Two words; not alright. Hyphenate when it precedes the word it modifies. Examples:

  • Do you feel all right?
  • It was an all-right day — not great, but not bad, either.

allusion, illusionAllusion is an indirect or casual reference to something. Illusion is an unreal or false impression of reality.

American Indian — Current recommendation is to use two words, no hyphen. Can be used interchangeably with Native American where appropriate, but follow the subject’s preference and use a more specific name (such as Lakota Sioux or Navajo) where possible.

Asian American — Current recommendation is to use two words, no hyphen.

Asian Pacific American — Current recommendation is to use three words, no hyphen.

B

baby boom / baby boomer — Note lowercase.

bachelor's degree — Do not abbreviate academic degrees in text. Use lowercase with an apostrophe. If writing the formal title of a particular degree, capitalize and remove the apostrophe (e.g., Bachelor of Arts in History). When abbreviations are used, capitalize and use periods (e.g., B.A.).

backup (n., adj.), back up (v.) — One word when used as a noun or an adjective. Two words when used as a verb. Examples:

  • Noun and adjective: When the backup is complete, you’ll see a list of all backup files.
  • Verb: We automatically back up our website.

biannual(ly), bimonthly, biweekly — Don’t use any of these words. They can mean either every other year, month, or week, or twice a year, month, or week. Instead, use the longer but unambiguous every two years, months, or weeks, or twice a year, month, or week.

black — Current recommendation is to use lowercase when referring to race. African American may also be used when it is certain that the person is American.

BlackBerry — One word. Note capitalization. Plural: BlackBerry devices (because the word is a trademark, don’t use BlackBerrys unless it’s part of a direct quotation).

blog — Preferred to weblog. Can be used as a noun, adjective or verb.

C

calendar months — Always spell-out months, even in titles. Do not use abbreviations.

cannot — Use instead of can not whether used as adjective, adverb or noun.

capital, capitolCapital means wealth or assets, or a city that serves as the seat of government or specific activity. It can also mean uppercase (i.e., capital letters). Capitol refers to specific government buildings (e.g., At the state capitol, legislators discussed capital punishment and the naming of a new capital city.).

Cc — Abbreviation for carbon copy. Abbreviation is always OK. Note capitalization of first “C” only.

cell phone — Two words, no hyphen.

chair, chairperson — Use these gender-neutral terms rather than chairman or chairwoman.

checkout (n., adj.), check out (v.) — One word when used as a noun or an adjective. Two words when used as a verb. Examples:

  • Noun: You enter this information during checkout.
  • Adjective: The checkout process is quick and efficient.
  • Verb: You’ll find that you can check out quickly and efficiently.

city — Lowercase in most instances (e.g., the city), but capitalize when referring to the official name of a particular city (e.g., City of Minnetonka).

  • cities is always lowercase (e.g., cities of Minnetonka, Edina and Minneapolis).

citywide — No hyphen.

cleanup (n., adj.); clean up (v.) — One word when used as a noun or an adjective. Two words when used as a verb. Examples:

  • Noun: The fall cleanup will take place on October 17.
  • Adjective: The cleanup project should take about an hour.
  • Verb: Make sure to clean up the room after meetings.

co- — Generally, use a hyphen between this prefix and a root word unless the word is in the dictionary (e.g., cooperation, coordinate). Always use a hyphen when the resulting word denotes a shared occupation or status (e.g., co-creator, co-host, co-worker).

complement, complimentComplement means to complete something (e.g., The tie complements the suit). Compliment means to give praise.

comprise, composeComprise means to contain (e.g., The house comprises seven rooms). With comprise, the word comes before the contained items (seven rooms), and you do not use "is comprised of." Compose means to make up (e.g., Many ethnic groups compose our nation). With compose, the items (ethnic groups) come before the word.

continual, continuousContinual means often repeated, but occasionally interrupted. Continuous means uninterrupted.

county — Lowercase when used without Hennepin (i.e., Hennepin County).

countywide — No hyphen.

court — Lowercase when referring generally to the court/s. Capitalize when referring to an official court (e.g., Fourth Judicial District Court).

CSS — Abbreviation for Cascading Style Sheets. Abbreviation OK after first explanation.

D

days of the week — Capitalize (e.g., Monday, Friday) and do not use abbreviations.

daylight saving time — Lowercase in all uses. Note singular saving, not savings.

decision maker — Two words, no hyphen.

decision making (n.), decision-making (adj.) — Two words when used as a noun, hyphenated when used as an adjective.

deputy — Officers of the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office.

disabled — Current recommendation is to not use the term disabled by itself as a noun (e.g., the disabled). Instead use the phrase persons with disabilities. It is, however, OK to use disabled as an adjective when referring to people with disabilities (e.g., Can disabled people access your website?).

discreet (adj.), discrete (adj.) — Discreet means to be thoughtful or reserved. Discrete means to be separate or distinct. To avoid confusion, you might want to consider using a synonym.

double-click — Note hyphen. Can be used as a noun, adjective or verb.

drop-down menu — Hyphenated when used as a noun or an adjective (e.g., drop-down menu).

E

e- (e.g., e-subscribe, e-seminar, e-gov, etc.) — Insert a hyphen between this prefix and root words. Do not capitalize "e" or the root word unless in a title. Never use lowercase "e" with capitalized root word.

east — Note lowercase. Do not capitalize descriptive words that indicate direction only (e.g., east Hennepin County).

effect, affectEffect is most often used as a noun, meaning result (e.g., His warning had no effect.). As a verb, effect means to bring about or accomplish (e.g., We can effect change only through compromise.). Affect is normally used as a verb, meaning to influence (e.g., Taxes affect spending.) or to make a show of or pretend (e.g., She affected cheerfulness to hide her concern.). 

e.g., — Abbreviation meaning for example. Note periods and lack of space after the first period. Include a comma after the last period. Example:

  • Website users scan content for something that jumps out at them (e.g., photos, headings, etc.).

elicit, illicit Elicit means to draw out or provoke. Illicit means improper or not sanctioned by custom or law.

email — One word, no hyphen, lowercase. Plural: email messages and emails are both acceptable.

ensure, insureEnsure means to guarantee or make certain. Insure refers to insurance.

Ethernet — Note capitalization.

except (adj.), accept (v.) — Except means apart from or to exclude. Accept means to receive or agree with.

F

fall — Lowercase the season name. See also “seasons.”

FAQ — Capitalize. Stands for frequently asked question and generally refers to a list of such questions.

farther, furtherFarther applies to distance. Further means more or additional, but is not related to distance (e.g., We need further discussion on the topic.).

fax — Note lowercase.

fewer, lessFewer applies to countable items (e.g. We made fewer mistakes.). Less refers to quantities that cannot be individually counted (e.g., If they made less noise, I could concentrate better.).

firefighter — Use this term instead of fireman or firewoman.

Flash — Capitalize when referring to Adobe Flash multimedia technologies.

flow chart (n.), flow-chart (adj., v.) — Two words when used as a noun, hyphenated when used as an adjective or a verb.

Friday — Note capitalization.

FTP — Abbreviation for File Transfer Protocol. Abbreviation is always OK. Verb usage is also OK (e.g., Please FTP that file if it’s larger than 3MB.).

function keys — Lowercase. Refers to the F1 through F12 keys on a keyboard.

further, fartherFurther means more or additional, but is not related to distance (e.g., We need further discussion on the topic.). Farther applies to distance.

G

gay — Current recommendation is to use gay men and lesbians (not homosexuals).

Generation X, Generation Xer, Gen Xer — All are acceptable. Note capitalization.

Generation Y, Gen Y, Gen Yer — All are acceptable. Note capitalization.

geolocation — One word. The geographic location of an Internet-connected computer, or the process of determining that location.

geotagging (n.), geotag (v.) — One word. The verb means to add geographic data (such as longitude and latitude coordinates) to a photo or other media file.

GIF — Acronym for Graphic Interchange Format. Acronym is always OK. Plural: GIFs. All capitals.

GLBT — Acronym for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered. Acronym OK to use after an explanation. LGBT is the preferred term, but GLBT and LGBTQ are acceptable.

govt. — Acceptable abbreviation for government. Use only when space is tight. Note period.

GPS — Abbreviation for global positioning system. Abbreviation is always OK.

H

health care (n.); health-care (adj.) — Two words (not healthcare) when used as a noun. Hyphenate when used as an adjective (e.g., health-care reform).

Hispanic — Current recommendation is to use Latino or Latina, but Hispanic is acceptable.

homepage — One word, lowercase.

homophone / homograph / homonym  — Homophones are words that sound the same (e.g., rose and rows). Homographs are words that are spelled the same (e.g., I can eat a can of beans). Homonyms are words that both sound the same and are spelled the same (e.g., I signed the document with my pen, then retrieved my pet pig from its pen).

how-to — Note hyphen when used as a noun or an adjective. Examples:

  • Noun: How-tos include insider tips.
  • Adjective: Download the how-to guide.

hr. — Acceptable abbreviation for hour(s). Note the period. Include a space between the number and hr.

HTML — Abbreviation for Hypertext Markup Language. Abbreviation is always OK. All capitals and no periods.

hyperlink — The term is dated. Use link instead.

I

I, me, myself — I is a subject pronoun – it does something (“I will drive to the meeting.). Me is an object pronoun – it has something done to it (“Please let me know if you have any questions.”). Myself is a reflexive pronoun; like a reflection – it is used when you refer to yourself a second time in the same sentence (“I’m going to treat myself to a large doughnut.”). In most cases, you won’t use myself; you’ll use me or I.

Other pronouns follow the same pattern:

  • “She will drive to the meeting.”
  • “Please let her know if you have any questions.”
  • “She is going to treat herself to a large doughnut.”

When there is more than one person listed in a sentence, it can seem complicated. The simple trick is to think about how you would write a sentence if there were only one person.

  • “Please contact Jane, John, or me/myself/I with questions.” (Please contact me with questions.)
  • “Jane, John and me/myself/I are going to the conference.” (I am going to the conference.)

ID — Acronym for identification. All capitals, no periods, no space. Not Id or id. Other acceptable forms: IDs, ID’ed.

i.e., — Abbreviation meaning that is or in other words. Note periods and lack of space after the first period. Include a comma after the last period. Example:

  • The program is unattached (i.e., it is not administered by a particular department).

illicit, elicit — Illicit means improper or not sanctioned by custom or law. Elicit means to draw out or provoke.

illusion, allusionIllusion is an unreal or false impression of reality. Allusion is an indirect or casual reference to something.

IM — Acronym for instant message. All capitals, no periods, no space. Other acceptable forms: IMs, IM’ed, IM’ing. Can be used as a noun, adjective or verb.

imply, inferImply means to suggest. Infer means to deduce from evidence. A writer/speaker implies, while a reader/listener infers.

in-line — Hyphenated when used as a noun or an adjective (e.g., in-line links).

insure, ensureInsure refers to insurance. Ensure means to guarantee or make certain.

instant message (n.), instant-message (adj., v.) — Two words when used as a noun. Note hyphen when used as an adjective or a verb. See also “IM.” Examples:

  • Noun: She got an instant message from her boss.
  • Adjective: The instant-message conversation proved informative.
  • Verb: I’ll instant-message you when I arrive.

Internet — Note capitalization. OK to abbreviate as Net.

Internet service provider — Note capitalization. OK to abbreviate as ISP.

intranet — Note lowercase.

IP — Be careful using this abbreviation as it can stand for Internet Protocol or intellectual property.

irregardless — Do not use; it is a double negative. Regardless is correct.

ISP — Abbreviation for Internet service provider. Note capitalization. Plural: ISPs.

its versus it’sIts is a possessive pronoun parallel to his, hers, yours, theirs. It’s is a contraction meaning it is.

J

Java — Capitalize when referring to the programming language and related technologies.

JavaScript — One word. Note capitalization of the “J” and “S.”

JPEG — Abbreviation for Joint Photographic Experts Group. Generally used to refer to any graphic image file produced by using the JPEG standard. Abbreviation is always OK. All capitals and no periods. Plural: JPEGs.

judgment — This is the preferred spelling (without an "e" after the "g").

K

KB — Abbreviation for kilobyte. All capitals. Don’t include a space between a numeral and KB.

keyword — One word, lowercase when referring to terms that are used on a webpage to optimize it for search engines.

kilobyte — OK to abbreviate as KB. Must use abbreviation when referring to a file attachment on a webpage.

L

LAN — Acronym for local area network. Acronym OK to use after initial explanation. All capitals and no periods.

Latino, Latina — Current recommendation is to use these terms rather than Hispanic. Latino refers to men; Latina refers to women. Plural: Latinos, Latinas. When possible, be more specific (e.g., Colombian, Mexican American, Puerto Rican).

lay, lieLay requires an object that is acted on (e.g., I will lay the book [the object] on the table). The past tense of lay is laid (e.g., Last night I laid the book on the table). Lie does not require an object (e.g., I'm going to lie down). The past tense of lie is lay (e.g., Last night, I lay on the couch for a brief rest). And yes, that's confusing.

Legislature — Capitalize Minnesota Legislature and State Legislature (meaning a specific one, such as Minnesota’s). Lowercase when used to mean any legislature and in plural references.

lesbian — Preferred term. Note lowercase.

less, fewerLess refers to quantities that cannot be individually counted (e.g., If they made less noise, I could concentrate better.). Fewer applies to countable items (e.g. We made fewer mistakes.).

link — Can be used as a noun, adjective or verb.

LGBT — Preferred acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered. Acronym OK to use after an explanation. GLBT and LGBTQ are also acceptable.

login (n., adj.); log in, log in to (v.) — One word when used as a noun or an adjective. Two words when used as a verb, which may be followed by the preposition to. Example:

  • Go to the login (adjective) screen and log in (verb).

logoff (n., adj.), log off (v.) — One word when used as a noun or adjective. Two words when used as a verb. See “login” for similar example.

logon (n., adj.); log on, log on to (v.) — One word when used as a noun or adjective. Two words when used as a verb, which may be followed by the preposition to. See “login” for similar example.

logout (n., adj.), log out (v.) — One word when used as a noun or adjective. Two words when used as a verb. See “login” for similar example.

M

Mac — Abbreviation for Macintosh. Abbreviation is always OK.

mailbox — One word. Note lowercase.

mail carrier — Two words. Use this term instead of mailman.

manpower — Don’t use. Use staff, workforce, or other words instead.

master's degree — Do not abbreviate academic degrees in text. Use lowercase with an apostrophe. If writing the formal title of a particular degree (e.g., Master of Arts in English), then capitalize. When abbreviations are used, capitalize and use periods (e.g., M.A.).

MB — Abbreviation for megabyte. All capitals and no periods. Don’t include a space between a numeral and MB.

Mbps — Abbreviation for megabits per second. Note capitalization — especially the lowercase "b," which distinguishes this from MBps, a different measurement. Don’t include a space between the number and the abbreviation.

MBps — Abbreviation for megabytes per second. Note capitalization — especially uppercase "B," which distinguishes this from Mbps, a different measurement. Don’t include a space between the number and the abbreviation.

me, myself, I — I is a subject pronoun – it does something (“I will drive to the meeting.). Me is an object pronoun – it has something done to it (“Please let me know if you have any questions.”). Myself is a reflexive pronoun; like a reflection – it is used when you refer to yourself a second time in the same sentence (“I’m going to treat myself to a large doughnut.”). In most cases, you won’t use myself; you’ll use me or I.

Other pronouns follow the same pattern:

  • “She will drive to the meeting.”
  • “Please let her know if you have any questions.”
  • “She is going to treat herself to a large doughnut.”

When there is more than one person listed in a sentence, it can seem complicated. The simple trick is to think about how you would write a sentence if there were only one person.

  • “Please contact Jane, John, or me/myself/I with questions.” (Please contact me with questions.)
  • “Jane, John and me/myself/I are going to the conference.” (I am going to the conference.)

media — Treat media as a mass noun with a singular verb, unless you can distinguish the individual mediums (modes of communication) making up a use of media. Examples:

  • Singular verb with mass noun — the media (e.g., The media is ignoring the story completely.)
  • Plural verb with distinguishable “mediums” (e.g., Various media are covering the story differently: Print newspapers seem to be burying it, but TV stations and online sites are highlighting it.)

message boards — Two words. Lowercase when used generically.

million — Use numerals with million. Don’t hyphenate the numeral and million, even before a noun (e.g., 2.8 million, a $3 million budget). As part of a hyphenated compound, use a hyphen between the numeral and million (e.g., a 7-million-year-old fossil).

Minnesota — Do not abbreviate, unless it is part of a mailing address. Capitalize the “S” if using State of Minnesota.

minority — Only use this term when describing a group that is smaller and different from a larger group, not as a generic term for non-whites. People/person of color is preferred.

MNsure — The State of Minnesota health insurance marketplace. Note the lowercase "s."

mobile — Acceptable as a noun when it’s a shortened form of mobile phone. Mobile phone is interchangeable with cell phone.

Monday — Note capitalization.

months — Always capitalize and spell-out each month. Do not use abbreviations.

mouseover (n.), mouse over (v.) — Do not use to describe the action of holding the mouse pointer over an area of the page. Use roll, move, pass your mouse cursor over, or an equivalent phrase.

MP3 — Abbreviation for MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3. All capitals, no spaces, no periods. Abbreviation is always OK. Plural: MP3s.

myself, me, I — I is a subject pronoun – it does something (“I will drive to the meeting.). Me is an object pronoun – it has something done to it (“Please let me know if you have any questions.”). Myself is a reflexive pronoun; like a reflection – it is used when you refer to yourself a second time in the same sentence (“I’m going to treat myself to a large doughnut.”). In most cases, you won’t use myself; you’ll use me or I.

Other pronouns follow the same pattern:

  • “She will drive to the meeting.”
  • “Please let her know if you have any questions.”
  • “She is going to treat herself to a large doughnut.”

When there is more than one person listed in a sentence, it can seem complicated. The simple trick is to think about how you would write a sentence if there were only one person.

  • “Please contact Jane, John, or me/myself/I with questions.” (Please contact me with questions.)
  • “Jane, John and me/myself/I are going to the conference.” (I am going to the conference.)

N

Native American — Current recommendation is to use two words, no hyphen. Can be used interchangeably with American Indian where appropriate, but follow the subject’s preference and use a more specific name (such as Lakota Sioux or Navajo) where possible.

Net — Capitalize when referring to the Internet. Abbreviation is always OK.

nickel-metal hydride — Lowercase the written-out form of this battery type.

Ni-MH — Acceptable abbreviation for nickel-metal hydride, a type of battery. Note capitalization and hyphen.

non- — Generally, do not include hyphens unless the root word starts with a capital letter (e.g., noncommercial, nonfiction, nonprofit, non-Darwinian).

north — Note lowercase. Do not capitalize descriptive words that indicate direction only (e.g., north Hennepin County).

northeast — Note lowercase. Do not capitalize descriptive words that indicate direction only (e.g., northeast Hennepin County).

North Minneapolis — Note capitalization when used for generally accepted names for areas.

Northeast Minneapolis — Note capitalization when used for generally accepted names for areas.

O

OK — All capitals. Not okay, Ok, or ok.

online — One word. Note lowercase.

onscreen — One word. Note lowercase.

open source (n.), open-source (adj.) — Two words when used as a noun. Hyphenated when used as an adjective (e.g., open-source software).

opt-in (n., adj.), opt in (v.) — Hyphenated as a noun or an adjective. Two words as a verb. Examples:

  • Noun: The opt-in has been disabled.
  • Adjective: Read our opt-in policy.
  • Verb: To receive electronic statements, you must opt in.

OS — Abbreviation for operating system. OK to abbreviate after initial explanation. Plural: OSes.

P

Pacific Islander — Current recommendation is to use two words, no hyphen. Refers to the native peoples of Polynesia (including Hawaii, Samoa, Tahiti, and Tonga), Micronesia (including Guam, the Northern Marianas, and Palau), and Melanesia (including Fiji and Papua New Guinea).

password — One word.

password-protect — Note hyphen in this verb (e.g., Be sure to password-protect sensitive files on the intranet.).

PayPal — One word. Note capitalization of both “Ps.”

PC — Abbreviation for personal computer. Abbreviation is OK as long as context is clear (abbreviation can also mean politically correct). Plural: PCs.

PDA — Abbreviation for personal digital assistant. Abbreviation is OK. Plural: PDAs.

PDF — Abbreviation for Portable Document Format. Used to refer to files created by using Adobe Acrobat. All capitals and no periods. Plural: PDFs.

peer-to-peer — Note hyphens.

percentages — Use figures and the word percent (e.g., "We had a 7 percent response rate."). Use the symbol % in parentheses or tables only.

Ph.D. — Note capitalization and periods.

PIN — Abbreviation for personal identification number. All capitals and no periods. Not PIN number.

plug-in (n., adj.), plug in (v.) — Note hyphen when used as a noun or adjective (e.g., “Downloading the plug-in (noun) will allow users to access additional content.”).

p.m. — Lowercase, no space. Include a space between the number and p.m.

podcast — One word, lowercase.

police officer — Use this term instead of policeman or policewoman. When referring to a Hennepin County employee, use the term deputy.

pop-up (n., adj.), pop up (v.) — Note hyphen when used as a noun or adjective. Two words when used as a verb. Never popup. Example:

  • Get rid of pop-ups (noun) before they pop up (verb).

post- — Generally, close up this prefix with root words unless the root word starts with a capital letter. If it does, insert a hyphen (e.g., postgame, posttrial, postproduction, post-Victorian).

postal worker — Use this term instead of postman or postwoman.

pre- — Generally, close up this prefix with root words unless the root word starts with an e or a capital letter. If it does, insert a hyphen. (e.g., pre-enrollment, preproduction, pre-MP3).

preventive, preventativePreventive is the original and preferred adjectival form of the verb, prevent. Preventative means the same thing and is a less accepted form. When using as an adjective, use preventive (e.g., preventive medicine).

principal, principlePrincipal is a person or thing that has the highest authority or importance (e.g., The school principal talked about the principal reason for the meeting.). Principle means a fundamental truth, doctrine, or policy (e.g., It's important to stick to our principles.).

printout (n.), print out (v.) — One word when used as a noun. Two words when used as a verb. Example:

  • I’ll print out (verb) a copy of the article and mark my edits on the printout (noun).

PSL — Do not use this abbreviation for the skyway level of the Hennepin County Government Center. Most visitors do not know what it means, and most public services are no longer offered on this level. Instead use skyway level.

pull-down — Hyphenated when used as a noun or an adjective (e.g., pull-down menu).

Q

Q&A — Abbreviation for question and answer. All capitals, no spaces. Note ampersand.

QuickTime — One word. Note capitalization of this Apple trademark.

R

RAM — Abbreviation for random access memory. Abbreviation is always OK. All capitals and no periods.

re- — Generally, close up this prefix with root words unless the root word starts with an e or a capital letter. If it does, insert a hyphen. Exceptions: re-create, re-cover, and re-sent (to avoid confusion with recreate, recover, and resent).

right-click — Note hyphen.

RSS — Acronym for Really Simple Syndication. All capitals and no periods. Abbreviation is always OK, but avoid using RSS on its own, since many people don’t know what it means. Use news feed, RSS news feed, or RSS newsreader as appropriate.

S

Saturday — Note capitalization.

screen reader — An assistive technology (typically software) that vision-impaired people can use to hear the words on a webpage.

seasons — Lowercase the names of seasons and derivatives (e.g., springtime, wintertime). Don’t include a comma between a season name and a year (e.g., The county email system launched in fall 1990.).

s/he — Avoid this usage. Use gender-neutral language instead.

self- — Hyphenate this prefix (e.g., self-employed, self-esteem, etc.).

sexual orientation — Current recommendation is to use this term, not sexual preference.

sheriff — Only the elected Hennepin County Sheriff is referred to as sheriff. Other officers are referred to as deputy/deputies. The term sheriff is only capitalized when used as a formal job title immediately preceding the name of the current county sheriff.

sign-in (n., adj.); sign in, sign in to (v.) — As a noun or an adjective, it’s hyphenated. As a verb, it’s two words, which may be followed by the preposition to. Examples:

  • Noun: Choose your preferences for sign-in and security.
  • Adjective: All visitors must use the sign-in page.
  • Verb: Visitors can sign in to their email account automatically.

sign-out (n., adj.); sign out, sign out of (v.) — As a noun or an adjective, it’s hyphenated. As a verb, it’s two words, which may be followed by the preposition of. For similar examples, see “sign-in.”

sign-up (n., adj.), sign up (v.) — Hyphenate when used as a noun or an adjective. Two words when used as a verb. Examples:

  • Noun: Sign-up is free.
  • Adjective: Fill in the sign-up form.
  • Verb: Sign up for the service.

SIM card — SIM stands for subscriber identity module, a card used in cell phones. Abbreviation is always OK. Note capitalization and no periods.

site map — Two words.

slideshow — One word.

smart card — Two words.

smartphone — One word.

SMS — Abbreviation for short message service, used for text messaging. Abbreviation OK to use after initial explanation. No capitalization and no periods.

snowplow — One word.

Social Security number — Note capitalization. Can also use SSN.

south — Note lowercase. Do not capitalize descriptive words that indicate direction only (e.g., south Hennepin County).

southeast — Note lowercase. Do not capitalize descriptive words that indicate direction only (e.g., southeast Hennepin County).

southwest — Note lowercase. Do not capitalize descriptive words that indicate direction only (e.g., southwest Hennepin County).

spacebar — One word.

spell-checker, spell-check — Note hyphen.

spokesperson — Use this term instead of spokesman or spokeswoman.

spring, springtime — Lowercase the season name.

SSN — Abbreviation for Social Security number. Do not use SSN number.

state — Lowercase in most instances (e.g., the state), but capitalize when referring to the official name of a particular state (e.g., State of Minnesota).

  • states is always lowercase (e.g., states of Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin).

statewide — No hyphen.

style sheet — Two words, lowercase.

sub- — Generally, close up this prefix with root words unless the root word starts with a capital letter (e.g., subheader, subcategory). If it does, insert a hyphen.

summer, summertime — Lowercase the season name.

Sunday — Note capitalization.

T

text — Acceptable short form of text message. Plural: texts. Other forms: texted, texting.

text message (n.), text-message (adj., v.) — Two words when used as a noun. Note hyphen when used as an adjective or a verb. Examples:

  • Noun: Did you get my text message?
  • Adjective: She had a heated text-message argument with her boyfriend.
  • Verb: I’ll text-message you with the details.

than, thenThan is used for comparisons (e.g., Some education is better than none at all.). Then is used to note time or a sequence of events (e.g., I wrote the text, then edited it.).

that, whichUse that before restrictive clauses — the part of a sentence that you can't get rid of because it specifically restricts some other part of the sentence (e.g., The phone that has a cracked screen needs to be fixed). Use which if what follows could be deleted without changing the meaning of the sentence (e.g., Cell phones, which can be expensive, function like mini computers). Which often comes after a comma. 

their, there, they'reTheir means belonging to them (e.g., Where is their car?). There signifies a place (e.g., Let's visit there.). They're is a contraction of they are.

thumb drive — Two words, lowercase.

Thursday — Note capitalization.

to (v.), too (adv.), twoTo often precedes a noun and means toward or against (e.g., He went to the store. She pressed her face to the glass.). It also can be combined with a verb to form an infinitive (e.g., I need to write). Too means also and in excess (e.g., I too had too many tacos for lunch.). Two signifies the number 2.

toolbar — Lowercase when used generically.

TOS — Abbreviation for terms of service. Abbreviation OK on second reference. All capitals and no periods.

Tuesday — Note capitalization.

Twin Cities — Note capitalization.

U

UI — Abbreviation for user interface. Abbreviation OK after initial explanation. All capitals and no periods.

upper-left corner — Note hyphen. Not upper-left-hand corner.

upper-right corner — Note hyphen. Not upper-right-hand corner.

up-to-date — Note hyphens (e.g., Keep your calendar up-to-date.).

URL — All capitals and no periods. Plural: URLs.

U.S. — Acceptable abbreviation for United States. Note periods and no space. Not US or U. S.

USA — Acceptable abbreviation for United States of America.

USB — Abbreviation for Universal Serial Bus. Abbreviation is always OK. All capitals and no periods. 

user — Because of the techie, impersonal nature of this term, consider using member, subscriber, customer, reader, visitor, or similar.

user name — Two words, lowercase. Not username.

V

vidcast —Short for video podcast. One word, lowercase.

video camera — Two words, lowercase.

videoconference — One word, lowercase.

videophone — One word, lowercase.

vlog — Short for video blog. One word, lowercase.

voicemail — One word, lowercase.

VPN — Abbreviation for virtual private network. Abbreviation OK after initial explanation. All capitals and no periods.

W

web — Note lowercase.

webcam — One word, lowercase.

webcast — One word, lowercase.

web conference — Two words, lowercase.

web feed — Two words, lowercase.

web hosting — Two words, lowercase.

webinar — A seminar conducted online. One word, lowercase.

weblog — Do not use. Use blog instead.

webmaster — One word, lowercase.

webpage — One word, lowercase.

website — One word, lowercase.

Wednesday — Note capitalization.

west — Note lowercase. Do not capitalize descriptive words that indicate direction only (e.g., west Hennepin County).

white — Current recommendation is to use Caucasian instead.

wiki — Lowercase. Plural: wikis.

winter, wintertime — Lowercase the season name. See also “seasons.”

word-of-mouth — Note hyphens when used as a noun or adjective.

World Wide Web — Note capitalization.

WWW — OK to use as an abbreviation for World Wide Web. All capitals and no periods.

X

XHTML —Abbreviation for Extensible Hypertext Markup Language. Depending on audience, may require explanation on first reference. All capitals and no periods

XML —Abbreviation for Extensible Markup Language. Depending on audience, may require explanation on first reference. All capitals and no periods.

Y

your, you'reYour means belonging to you (e.g., Your briefcase is over there.). You're is a contraction of you are.

YouTube — One word. Note capitalization of “T.”

Z

Hennepin County — After the first reference, use the county (lowercase). The term Hennepin without county may not be used.



Capitalization and punctuation

Capitalization

For specific examples, see the word list above.

When writing for a public audience, capitalize only the first word in a sentence and proper nouns, even in subtitles or section headings of documents. All major style guides recommend lowercase style because:

  • Capitals are reserved for proper nouns — A proper noun is the formal, official, commonly agreed-upon name of a specific person, place or thing. If most people in the community haven't heard of something — such as a particular county committee or program — then it isn't a proper noun and shouldn't be capitalized.
  • Use of capitals harms readability – any time readers come across something unusual happening in a sentence, it slows them down and diminishes comprehension; and capital letters in the middle of a sentence are unusual. For information on how mid-sentence capitals cause problems, see the Yale style guide.
  • Capitals subtly separate you from your readers – capitalizing words is one of the most common and least effective methods writers use to signify the importance of something. But capitalization doesn’t inherently make your report or program or committee more important. It does, however, create a barrier between you and your audience. Because we are a service organization, we should strive to connect with our citizens instead of talking down to them.

Names of departments, offices, programs and committees

In most cases, the public cares about the services they receive, not about who provides that service. Therefore, generally avoid including the names of departments, offices, programs or committees.

  • If you must specify the department or office, only capitalize when naming the full, official department or office name (e.g., Resident and Real Estate Services Department, Office of Budget and Finance).
  • Do not capitalize the names of programs or committees unless the lack of capitalization might cause confusion. These should only be capitalized if:
    • The name of the program is non-descriptive
    • The program has been branded to a large audience who is familiar with the capitalized version

Job titles

Capitalize formal job titles when used immediately before a name, but lowercase titles when used alone or in constructions that set them off from a name by commas. Use lowercase at all times for terms that are job descriptions rather than formal titles.

  • County Board Chair John Jones (formal title before a name)
  • John Jones, board chair (title separated by a comma)
  • The director (formal title used alone)

Email addresses

In most instances, all letters in an email address should be lowercase. When writing for the web, you must use all lowercase.

Numbers

  • Use figures for 10 and above; spell out numbers for nine and below, even when numbers are mixed in the same sentence (e.g., Overall, six out of 27 residents agreed.).
    • For large numbers, include commas to make them easier to read (e.g., 10,000).
  • The exception to the previous rule is to spell out numbers 10 and above when they start a sentence. However, you should try to rephrase the sentence, if possible.
    • Fine — Twenty-five participants completed the survey, and seven were college graduates.
    • Better — Of the 25 participants, seven were college graduates.
  • Addresses
    • Address numbers: always use figures (e.g., 9 Johnson Avenue, 2235 Phillips Street)
    • Street names: use figures for 10 and above; spell out and capitalize for nine and below (e.g., 300 Fifth Avenue, 300 21st Street); to make a clearer distinction between the address and street name, you can add a dash (e.g., 300 - 21st Street)
    • When used in a sentence with a numbered address, spell out and capitalize Street, Avenue and Boulevard.
    • For a mailing address, use the USPS abbreviations and the additional four zip code numbers (e.g., 300 S Sixth St, Minneapolis, MN 55487-0240).
  • Phone numbers — always include the area code and dashes (e.g., 612-348-3000).
  • Percentages — Use figures and the word percent (e.g., We had a 7 percent response rate.).
    • Use the symbol % in parentheses or tables only.
  • Time of day
    • Always include a.m. and p.m. in lower case with no space between the periods (e.g., The meeting will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.).
    • Do not include ":00" for on-the-hour times, even in ranges (e.g., Services are available between 8 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.).
    • Use noon and midnight rather than 12 a.m. or p.m.
    • With time ranges, dashes and to are acceptable as long as you are consistent. Dashes tend to work better when you have limited space and both times are either a.m. or p.m. (e.g., 1 - 4 p.m.). Include spaces on either side of the dash. To works better in complete sentences. You can also use and in some situations (e.g., between 8 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.)
  • Ages and dollar amounts — always express as numerals (e.g., She is 5 years old, $5, $75).

Dates and days of the week

  • Always spell-out months completely; do not use abbreviations or numbers (e.g., November 22, 2010, rather than 11/22/10).
  • Do not include a comma when using the month and year only (e.g., In May 2011 commissioners will consider the issue.).
  • Include commas after the day and the year when including a full date in a sentence (e.g., On May 12, 2011, commissioners will consider the issue.).
  • Do not use st, nd, rd, or th after dates (e.g., Elections are scheduled for November 2.).
  • Capitalize days of the week and do not abbreviate.

Punctuation and formatting

Bullets

  • Capitalize the first letter of all bullets
  • Do not include punctuation at the end a bullet if it is not a complete sentence
    • You may, but are not required to, include a period at the end of a bullet with a complete sentence
  • Every bullet in a list should be structured the same way
    • Every bullet should start with the same part of speech (e.g., all verbs or all nouns)
    • Every bullet should be a sentence fragment or every bullet should be a complete sentence — do not mix and match

Commas

Dashes

  • Include spaces on each side of a dash (e.g., Great websites are based on great content — the words, pictures, videos.).

Hyphens and compound words

In general, use hyphens when you have more than one adjective that modifies a noun (e.g., The mayor met with big-box-company leaders.). Without the hyphens, the mayor may be meeting with large leaders of box companies.

Writing and grammar resources

Tips for clear and effective writing

We encourage a writing style that connects with readers, that is clear, conversational and accessible. After all, we not only serve our communities; we are part of our communities.

One relatively easy way to achieve this style is to write with a specific person or group of people in mind. If you do, you'll be far less likely to use stiff, off-putting language. Your goal is to create a connection with your readers; not to separate yourself from them.

Avoid acronyms and jargon

If possible, avoid using acronyms and jargon — most of the county's audience doesn't know what they stand for. Use a full description, then use terms like the program or the county in subsequent references.

  • The county’s adoption program is managed by the Human Services and Public Health Department. For more information, contact county staff at 612-111-1111.

Most people are also unaware of the various departments, reporting lines, and responsibilities within the county. To them, we are all Hennepin County. Try to make the distinctions seamless.

  • For more information on housing development, contact Hennepin County at 612-111-1111.

If the acronym is a commonly-used term (e.g., MNDOT, CDC, A-GRAD, HERC), then introduce it with the full term followed by the acronym in parentheses.

  • The Hennepin Energy Recovery Center (HERC) is located in downtown Minneapolis.

Simple words are usually clearer and more accurate

Instead of Try using
accomplish do, make, finish
ascertain learn, find out
cognizant aware
commence start, begin
demonstrate  prove, show
disseminate give, send, provide, issue
endeavor try
enhance Enhance suggests increasing or improving but doesn’t say how.
Be more specific — in what way is it being increased or improved?
erroneous wrong
exacerbate make worse, aggravate
expedient easy, convenient, practical
impact
(as a verb)
affect, influence
implement
(as a verb)
Can you use the thing you’re implementing as a verb?
Instead of “implementing a plan,” can you plan?
individual person, people, man, woman, etc.
in order to to
initialize start
modality style, way, method
modification change
necessitate cause
optimum best, ideal
parameter limit, boundary
procure get, obtain, buy, find
requisition request
strategize plan
terminate or
termination
end, finish
utilize use

Omit needless words and weak modifiers

Each of the following sentences is stronger without the word in italics.

  • In order to avoid common errors, take the time to use a style manual.
  • Fortunately, the flaws were only cosmetic in appearance.
  • This effectively limits our ability to respond quickly.
  • We took very immediate action.

What to do about the "he/she" problem

English has no official third person singular pronoun that is inclusive of both genders. Some writers alternate between "she" and "he," but that can be confusing for the reader. Others use "he/she" or "him/her," but most readers find this awkward, and reading tests show that it slows down readers considerably. In addition, many people are uncomfortable being identified by gender-specific pronouns.

The best solution is to rewrite sentences to remove the need for a singular pronoun. For example, you could change “Every employee should complete his/her timecard” to “All employees should complete their timecards” or “Every employee should complete a timecard.”

Unfortunately, not all sentences can be easily rewritten. In those cases, it is grammatically acceptable to use the pronoun “they” as singular. This usage has a long and distinguished history — Shakespeare and Jane Austin used it frequently — and reading comprehension tests show that it causes little or no disruption to readers. Just be aware that some pedantic readers, including your former high school English teacher, may let you know you did something wrong.

Possessive references to groups are singular

In follow-up references to groups, use the singular its rather than the plural their.

  • The county board decided to hold its next meeting on September 22.

Voice — active is usually preferable to passive

Voice refers to whether the subject of a sentence performs or receives an action. Active sentences are generally more direct and concise than passive.

  • Passive — My first week in Hennepin County will always be remembered by me. (Remembered (action) by me (subject))
  • Active — I will always remember my first week in Hennepin County. (I (subject) remember (action))
  • Passive — When the F1 key is pressed, help information is shown. (When pressed action by you subject, information is shown (action) to you (subject))
  • Active — Press the F1 key to see help information. (You (subject) press (action) and see (action))

Voice — there are times when passive works better

The passive voice puts the object of the sentence at the beginning, giving it more focus. In the sentences below, the objects (program participants and their goals) are more important than the subject (Hennepin County).

  • Active — Hennepin County will administer surveys and conduct interviews with program participants to assess the degree to which they reach their goals.
  • Passive — The degree to which program participants reach their goals will be assessed through surveys and interviews.

Lists and coordinate ideas should be in parallel form

Each element of a list is closely related and should be expressed similarly, in parallel form. To test if your list is parallel, see if each element works by itself with the introductory part of the sentence.

  • Not good — She is capable, experienced, and often works until late at night.
    • Test — She is capable. She is experienced. She is often works until late at night.
  • Good — She is capable, experienced, and hard-working.
    • Test — She is capable. She is experienced. She is hard-working.

Use action verbs rather than nominalizations (nouns as verbs)

Verbs are highly productive workers. They carry the action in a sentence, and they do it quickly and efficiently. When writers ask nouns to do the work of verbs, the results (nominalizations) are much less efficient. Trust your verbs to do their job; nouns have their own work to do.

  • Nominalization — Make a revision in this sentence.
  • Action verb — Revise this sentence.
  • Nominalization — This report gives an analysis of the problem and determines a solution.
  • Action verb — This report analyzes the problem and solves it.

Writing and grammar resources

How not to do it

Bureaucrat's guide to cookies (PDF)

Editing tips

Copy-editing your text is an essential final step in the publication process: even Nobel Prize-winning authors have editors.

How to edit

There are two types of editing, each equally important.

1. Editing for purpose

This big picture editing is to make sure the writing accomplishes its intended goal and is as understandable and user-friendly as it can be. Do not copy edit yet — red pens down!

  • Put your draft away for a few minutes or a few days so you can review it with fresh eyes.
  • Quickly skim the content to see if it makes sense as a whole. 
  • Review the goal of your draft. Does the piece do what you want it to do? Do the title and opening sentences match the real subject of your draft. If not, either the draft needs to be focused more closely to your goal, or the goal needs to change to match the draft.
  • Go through your text a second time and read slowly. Look for:
    • Repetition — Have you said the same thing more than once in different words? Can one sentence be omitted?
    • Unnecessary language — If it isn't critically important to your goal, take it out. Try reading it without the language to see whether it becomes more focused or more confusing.
    • Pay special attention to the beginning — It might be the only part someone reads. Can your get your main point into the first sentence, or can you write a first sentence that makes the reader want to keep reading?
    • Worry less about the ending, unless you're writing a speech or a novel.

2. Copy editing

This type of editing is to check for errors in style, grammar, punctuation and spelling.

  • Review each word and sentence. If something seems off, try reading the text out loud.
  • Have someone who has not been involved in the preparation of your text give it a final check. If you have worked with it for very long, you become blind to errors.
  • Look up anything that you aren’t sure about, such as its (possessive) for it’s (contraction for it is). There are many good grammar resources. Some easy-to-use guides include:

Actual published errors

Sometimes, even professional publications don’t do a thorough job of proofreading their content.

  • Kaine to axe Va. workers (Washington Examiner)
  • Bishops agree sex abuse rules (Irish Business Post)
  • Lack of brains hinders research (Columbus Dispatch)
  • Supreme Court upholds anti-child pornography law (Yahoo News) Did the court really uphold a pornography law that hates children?
  • How we feel about ourselves is the core of self-esteem, says author Louise Hart (Boulder Daily Camera)
  • Fish lurk in streams (Rochester Democrat & Chronicle)
  • Discoveries: Older blacks have edge in longevity (Chicago Tribune)
  • Teen-age girls often have babies fathered by men (Oregonian)
  • Man shoots neighbor with machete (Miami Herald)
  • The Only Child Myth (Time Magazine)
    Is it the only myth, or a myth about only children?
  • Quaker Maid Meats Inc. on Tuesday said it would voluntarily recall 94,400 pounds of frozen ground beef panties that may be contaminated with E.coli. (Reuters)
  • To Everyone and Anyone who was in any way involved in my husband's passing, a Heart Felt Thank You. (Watertown Times, obituary page)

Writing and grammar resources

Plain language

We at Hennepin County have joined the international plain language movement and are committed to communicating to the public using language that is easy to understand. 

What is plain language?

Plain language is a process that involves focusing written communication on the needs of the intended audience. With everything you publish, your audience should be able to:

  • Find what they need
  • Understand what they find
  • Use that information to meet their needs

The product of a plain language process is writing that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.

How to apply plain language to your communications

The goal is to be clear, concise and scannable.

  • Include only what your audience needs
  • Organize your text so that key information is easy to find
  • Use headings and white space to help readers scan the information to find what they need
  • Avoid acronyms and jargon

Print it

  • The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) created a printable checklist to help writers craft plain language. It looks different than these tips, but the information is the same.

Benefits of using plain language

  • Increased audience satisfaction and understanding of message
  • Increased access to services and benefits and increased compliance with regulations
  • Decreased costs to the organization through reduced phone calls and faster processing

For details, go to plainlanguage.gov.

Learn more about plain language

Plain language examples

Before and after

See how others have helped their audiences by removing jargon and making messages more concise. Some examples also use simple graphics instead of text.

Not so plain

Printed on Minnesota gas pumps

"A person fueling a motor vehicle must be in close attendance to the dispenser nozzle during the fueling process."

In a letter to someone who has agreed to donate their body for research

"Dear ___,
The receipt of your pre-death whole body donation consent form is acknowledged. ..."


Writing for the web

You don’t need to be an accomplished writer to create great web content. By using neutral/objective language, concise text, and a scannable layout, you can significantly improve the usability of your web content.

Step 1: Define your goal

  • What result are you trying to achieve?
  • Do you want your audience to do something?
  • Is the website the most effective way to achieve your goal?

Step 2: Focus on your audience

Write for the 90% — most site visitors need the same few things.

  1. Identify your primary audience
  2. Find out what key information your audience needs by checking with front-line staff
  3. Create an outline with only that key information

Step 3: Write concise, scannable text

Most website visitors will not read your content word-by-word. Instead, most people quickly scan the page for key information — usually found near the top of the page or beneath headings.

  1. Strive for clear and concise — Write your text so that it puts across a well-defined concept; just what your particular audience needs, but no more.
  2. Avoid jargon — Unless you audience expects it, do not use it.
  3. Organize it
    • Put the key message in the most logical, intuitive spot — usually the top.
  4. Make it scannable
    • Break-up the remaining text into small sections of paragraphs with one idea per concise paragraph.
    • Give each small section a header (title) to break-up the page and help users scan the material. The headers should tell readers what will be included in the following section.
    • Use bullets or numbered lists if appropriate.

Step 4: Edit

Go over the text one more time before publishing. For more information, see our editing tips.

  • Editing for purpose — does your content achieve its intended goal?
  • Copy editing — check for errors in style, grammar, punctuation and spelling

Step 5: Maintain your content

Unlike print publications, web content can be edited and republished almost instantaneously. But that timeliness brings added responsibility. Website visitors expect everything on our site to be relevant and up to date. To ensure that your content continues to meet the changing needs of your audience, you need to maintain it.

Verify the accuracy of your content

  • Review your content annually to verify that the information is still accurate.
  • Check all links to verify they still work and go to the appropriate location.
  • Check all downloadable files (e.g., PDFs, DOCs, etc.) to ensure you are using the most recent version.

Find out if your content meets the needs of your audience

  • Check with front-line staff to see if they receive common questions that could be answered on your website.
  • Survey your customers to see if you are meeting their needs.
  • Ask the web team (webteam@hennepin.us) to measure how usable your content is. We can review your content and provide website analytics. We may also be able to do usability testing with site users.
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Edited: 11/30/2016 by BL

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