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Hennepin County Design System

Capitalization, numbers, and punctuation


For specific examples, visit the A to Z word list and Hennepin County terms.

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.
  • Use of capitals harms accessibility — Any unusual font characteristic (bold, italics, underline, capital letter, etc.) are announced by screen reading software, stopping the flow of text and making it more difficult for people with low or no vision to understand your information.
  • 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 residents and partners 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 (Resident and Real Estate Services Department, Office of Budget and Finance, etc.).
  • Do not capitalize the names of programs or committees unless the lack of capitalization might cause confusion, such as if the name of the program is non-descriptive or 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.

All caps

In regular writing, you should never use all capital letters. Nearly all readers equate sentences written in all caps as impolite; a form of shouting. In addition, all using capital letters harms readability, making the reader work harder to grasp your message.


  • Use figures for 10 and above; spell out numbers for nine and below, even when numbers are mixed in the same sentence (Overall, six out of 27 residents agreed.).
    • For large numbers, include commas to make them easier to read (10,000).
    • For digital writing, use figures for all numbers. For more information, visit digital text standards.
  • 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 (9 Johnson Avenue, 2235 Phillips Street, etc.).
    • Street names: always use figures for numbered street names (5th Avenue, 21st Street). To make a clearer distinction between the address and street name, you can add a dash (300 – 21st Street).
    • Spell out all directions and street names instead of using abbreviations (north, south, Street, Avenue, Boulevard, etc.).
    • If you need to mail something, use the USPS abbreviations and the additional four zip code numbers on the envelope (300 S Sixth St, Minneapolis, MN 55487-0240).
    • To format a map link, include the name of the building in the link: Hennepin County Government Center map.
  • Ages — Always express as numerals (She is 5 years old).
  • Dates — Do not include "th," "st," "nd," or "rd" after a date. Instead, just include the number (January 10, 2023; March 16; etc.).
  • Distances — Always express as numerals (He is 6 feet tall).
  • Dollar amounts — Always express as numerals ($5, $75, etc.).
  • Phone numbers — Always include the area code and dashes (612-348-3000).
  • Percentages — Use figures and the percent symbol (%) with no space between them (We had a 7% response rate.). Do not superscript the percent symbol.
  • Time of day
    • Always include a.m. and p.m. in lower case with no space between the periods (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 (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. (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 (between 8 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.)

Dates and days of the week

  • Always spell-out months completely; do not use abbreviations or numbers (November 22, 2010, rather than 11/22/10).
  • Do not include a comma when using the month and year only (The May 2020 community meeting was cancelled.).
  • Include commas after the day and the year when including a full date in a sentence (On May 12, 2011, commissioners will consider the issue.).
  • Do not use stndrd, or th after dates (Elections are scheduled for November 2.).
  • Capitalize days of the week and do not abbreviate.

Punctuation and formatting

Bullets / key points

  • 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 (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


Hyphens and dashes

In graphic design, HTML and traditional typesetting, there are three main dashes (see below for an explanation of the hyphenen dash, and em dash). But for most people using Microsoft products, it can be difficult to create the three separate marks and most readers don't know the difference. Therefore, it's OK to just use two — a short dash and a long dash — if you are using Word or Outlook. The short dash takes the place of the hyphen and en dash, while the long dash takes the place of the em dash.

How to use the three main dashes

  • Hyphen (-) is the shortest in length. Do not include a space before or after the hyphen. Used for:
    • Phone numbers (612-348-0000)
    • Splitting words at the end of a line
    • Compound words (cost-effective solution)
  • En dash (–) is longer than a hyphen but shorter than an em dash. Do not include a space before or after the dash. Used for:
    • Numbers in a range, including time, dates and page numbers (1–3 p.m.; 1999–2022; pages 12–22)
    • Words that describe a range (May–August, 2023)
  • Em dash (—) is the longest in length. Include a single space before and after the dash to create visual space and ensure combinations of words don’t wrap to the next line of text. Used to:
    • Signify an aside or pause within a sentence (You should learn when to use — and not use — dashes.).
    • Introduce something that explains or clarifies what came before the dash (Nervous writers are scared of two things — semicolons and editors.).

How to create short and long dashes in Microsoft

  • Short dash (hyphen and en dash) — Use the single dash key on the keyboard, located between “0” and “=.” Do not include a space before or after the dash.
  • Long dash (em dash) — If you type two consecutive dashes with a space on either side, Word and Outlook will automatically create a longer dash as soon as you finish typing another word. 

How to create hyphens, en dashes and em dashes in Microsoft

This a bit challenging because Microsoft does not follow common standards on spacing before and after en and em dashes. Because of this, you’ll need to do a little extra work.

  • Hyphen — Type a hyphen by using the single dash key on the keyboard, located between “0” and “=.” Do not include a space before or after the hyphen.
  • En dash — If you type two consecutive dashes with a space on either side, Word and Outlook will automatically create an en dash as soon as you finish typing another word. Then go back and remove the spaces on each side of the dash. You can also add an en dash by going to Insert > Symbol > Special Characters, or by typing “2013” followed by holding down the “Alt” and “X” keys at the same time.
  • Em dash — If you type two consecutive dashes without spaces on either side, Word and Outlook will automatically create an em dash as soon as you finish typing another word. Then go back and add a space before and after the dash. You can also add an em dash by going to Insert > Symbol > Special Characters, or by typing “2014” followed by holding down the “Alt” and “X” keys at the same time.