Use an active rather than a passive voice wherever possible.
Active voice is about starting a sentence with who is doing what
Council is the ‘who’ in this case, and you are recommending that Council does something, eg approves, funds, builds
These are all verbs, or doing words.
The main advantage of active voice (rather than passive) is it is easier to understand because it usually results in shorter, more direct sentences.
Council decided to … (active).
It has been decided that the Council will … (passive)
Council adopted all of the recommendations in the report. (Active)
All of the report recommendations were adopted by Council. (Passive)
Active voice = the person/Council comes first, and they do something
e.g. Council completed the transfer station work in July.
Passive voice = the person/Council turns up late
e.g. In July the transfer station work was completed by Council.
Correct use of Council, councils and Council’s
If it’s one particular council, capitalise it.
Council congratulated …
If you are referring to a number of councils, use a small c and no apostrophe.
XYZ is one of many councils around New Zealand …
If one particular council owns something, capitalise it and add an apostrophe after the l.
- Council’s computer system needs to be updated.
- Council’s decision will be reflected in …
If two particular councils own something, capitalise it and add an apostrophe after the s.
The A Regional and B District Councils’ chief executives met …
- Cost-effective options to continue to deliver existing services are likely to involve the use of new technology and partnerships with others, including B District Council and the New Zealand Transport Agency.
- The National Policy Statement on Urban Development Capacity (NPS-UDC) requires all councils to provide sufficient infrastructure to serve projected urban growth with a 20% buffer over the next 30 years.
- Council’s top three priorities for the next 10 years are ecological restoration, housing and employment initiatives.
Its and it’s
Can you split its into it and is? If so, add an apostrophe.
It’s going to be a close election
If you can’t break the word ‘its’ into ‘it is’ and still make sense, it should be all one word.
Renewal of the pump station is required because many of its components have reached the end of their useful life.
- This action is essential to enable the Council to meet its responsibilities, as outlined in section 10 of the Local Government Act.
- The preferred approach is to keep this infrastructure in place and to gain a 35 year resource consent for its future operation.
- As the frequency and intensity of droughts are predicted to increase over the next 30 years it’s likely there will be more water restrictions.
- The Council does not have an official position at the moment on whether or not to support the business-led employment initiative, other than recognising it’s an important project for the region’s economy.
Use apostrophes to convey ownership of something
- Smart uptake of new technology, particularly that which is visible to residents and visitors such as new transport technology, helps to build X Council’s reputation as a go-ahead city.
- The preferred options related to transport include a focus on those activities that also improve the network’s resilience to natural hazards.
- Promoting energy efficient solutions for home heating is essential due to the region’s cold climate.
Plural possessive — where there are several owners of something, the apostrophe goes after the s.
- People came from all over the region to see the car fair. The cars’ owners were pleased with the level of interest.
- External contractors were employed to test the traffic signals’ performance throughout February.
Do not use apostrophes for plurals where no ownership is involved
- The marine sediments on which the building will be constructed pose structural challenges.
- The resource consents for the new housing area will be scrutinised through this process.
Introduce the acronym in full the first time you use it. Don’t include the acronym if the term is not used again in your report.
The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) assessed the …
The Wastewater Activity Management Plan (AMP) identifies …
Note: don’t use acronyms in report recommendations as they need to be able to stand-alone from your report.
Acronyms and apostrophes
Only use an apostrophe after an acronym to convey ownership.
NZTA’s assessment framework
Do not use an apostrophe after an acronym if the s relates to more than one thing (such as several asset management plans).
All three AMPs were adopted …
Affect and effect
Affect is a verb and effect is a noun. That means if you can put a ‘the’ in front of the word, use effect.
The rates rise affects people living in the Rural Zone. (verb)
The effect of the rates rise is shown on page 5. (noun)
Alternative: another word you can use is impacts, which is spelt the same way as a verb or a noun.
Practise and practice
Practise is a verb and practice is a noun.
Memory trick (if it works for you): One way to remember this is that swimming is a doing word and starts with an ‘s’ and cat is a noun, and starts with a ‘c’.
- People who practise their golf swings in the camping ground can be a hazard to other people.
- We will be practising this skill over the next three weeks.
- Council recommends the practice of using haybales to control sediment.
- The recommendations were too expensive to put into practice.
Has and have
- she has, Council has … made a decision
- the Residents Association has, the organisation has … made a submission
- it has been an excellent year so far
Plural: we have, they have, the Councillors have … made a decision
I have … no idea why this exception applies!
In most cases this word should begin with a lower case i.
A capital I may be appropriate when referring to a particular tribe.
Access the Māori dictionary for more information — http://maoridictionary.co.nz
Use em-dashes to offset a word or phrase, creating a pause in the sentence.
The submissions on upgrading the housing stock varied considerably — some were deeply opposed to any further rates increases, while others wanted the work to be completed urgently.
The Long Term Plan consultation document proposes prioritising infrastructure spending over social projects and/or paying off debt — and is seeking feedback from the community on this.
Note: you can also use en-dashes in these situations. The key is to be consistent. Find out what the preferred style is for your organisation and consistently use either em-dashes or en-dashes.
Em-dashes are also used to separate subheadings from text.
Earthquakes — Earthquakes are a considerable risk to the transport network, especially in areas of reclaimed coastal margin and steep hillside suburbs. The transport assets most at risk are bridges and retaining walls.
To create an em-dash, press down on ctrl + alt + the minus symbol at the far right of your computer keyboard.
En-dashes are used to connect two numbers.
The course is for people aged 15–19 years old and will begin in the 2018–19 year.
- This asset management plan covers the years 2018–2028.
- Developers establish and maintain these systems for the first 2–5 years to prove they are functioning well, and then Council takes over ownership and maintenance.
(To create an en-dash use ctrl + the dash at the top right hand side of your keyboard.)
Hyphens connect two words and are also used in phone numbers.
- self-drive cars
- multi-modal options
- over-investing in infrastructure
- over-allocation issue
It’s impossible to know every word which should be hyphenated rather than two separate words, or just one word without a hyphen. When you are unsure, you can access the answer at: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com
If you are writing a long report, or find you are checking the same word all the time, it’s worthwhile making a list of the correct spelling (and hyphenation) of those words.
Correct use of macrons
A macron is a straight bar across some Māori vowels, which indicates a ‘long vowel’. This helps people to know how to pronounce the word.
To include a letter with a macron in your document: Insert / Symbol / select (eg ā or ū)
This can also be set up for you in your computer settings.
There are potential issues using macrons in Excel (contact Jane Loughnan for details).
Check the Māori dictionary at https://maoridictionary.co.nz where you can also listen to how the word is pronounced.
In general text, write one to nine as words and larger numbers as digits from 10 onwards. However, in some situations it is fine to write smaller numbers as digits, for example in levels of service tables in an Asset Management Plan.
Another exception to this rule is to avoid starting a sentence with a digit. If you want to say 50% of submitters support Option A you have a number of choices.
- Option A is supported by 50% of submitters (although this is passive voice).
- Approximately 50% of submitters support Option A.
- Half of the submitters support Option A.
- Fifty per cent of submitters support Option A.
Note: the English and NZ spelling is per cent, and the USA spelling is percent.
Use an active rather than a passive voice wherever possible.
The Council decided to … (active).
It has been decided that the Council will … (passive)
Use concrete nouns rather than abstract nouns (where possible)
Concrete nouns (things) help people to picture what you are talking about e.g. dog, building, tree.
Abstract nouns (ideas) e.g.truth, danger, happiness are more general, and therefore don’t engage readers so easily. However, sometimes we can’t avoid using abstract nouns in council documents (e.g. wellbeing, plant renewal).
Collective nouns (organisations) should have a singular verb (is rather than are)
Use a singular verb with an organisation (is rather than are, and it rather than they).
- The zoo is asking for more funding because it had to remained closed during the lockdown.
- The Economic Development Agency is working on its budgets this week.
- The Ratepayers and Residents Association submitted that no more money should be spent on tennis courts. It argued that limiting rates rises was the top priority for 2020.
Consistent use of point of view (first, second or third person)
First person: I, me, mine
Second person: you, we, us, your
Third person: they, them, their
Spot my error: The two broad options open to householders are to put their food waste out for collection or to process your own organic waste at home.
Lists are a great way to share technical information but inconsistent lists will confuse your readers.
Lists almost always need changes of some kind.
Key issues are:
- capitalisation of the first words
- mix of verbs and nouns in the first words
- line spacing.
Here are five key ways to fix your lists.
Avoid capitalisation of the first letter of each bullet point
The default provided by word-processing software is to capitalise the first word of each bullet point, but this is inconsistent with the way punctuation is generally used (you don’t usually capitalise a word half way through a sentence).
The only exceptions to this rule are:
- in report recommendations
- in lists involving full sentences (see point 4 in this section).
Does each point start the same way?
You have a number of options for lists that follow a statement with a colon:
- using verbs, all with an ‘ing’ ending (eg. continuing, investigating, supporting)
- using verbs, all without an ‘ing’ ending (eg continue, investigate, support)
- continuation of …
- investigation into …
- support systems …
To check if something is a noun, try adding ‘the’ in front of it and see if it sounds right.
Examples of nouns:
The wastewater plant
The Council officer
Examples of verbs:
Treating … waste
Entering … the building
Advising … the Council
Does each point finish the same way?
If a list follows a statement like this, with a colon:
- you don’t need to include any full stops or other punctuation at the end of sentences until the end of last bullet point
- your bullet points will look much cleaner without punctuation at the end of each sentence, and will be grammatically correct.
Commas and semi-colons are also grammatically correct. They are a good option for resource management plan conditions, where you need to add an ‘and’ or an ‘or’ to your bullet points.
As an example, an equally correct way to write a list is:
- to add semi-colons at the end of each bullet point; and
- to include an ‘and’ at the end of the second to last bullet point.
Avoid using a mix of capitals and lower case letters at the start of each point. (This is something to double check as Word will often automatically change your first letter to a capital.)
Starting each point with a verb
The four infrastructure objectives to which these challenges relate are to:
- increase resilience to natural hazards
- maintain and renew existing assets
- provide infrastructure to enable growth and development
- maintain or improve environmental outcomes.
Starting each point with a noun
Funding has been allocated for early investigation into the future of the wastewater treatment plant, including:
Ending each point with a semi-colon
The preferred options related to transport include:
- planning a works schedule to increase the level of transport renewals with a focus on those activities that also improve the network’s resilience to natural hazards;
- implementing projects that enable growth and improve travel time reliability on key journey routes;
- investing in initiatives that provide and promote transport choice;
- integrating the Southern Link with the local network (as the project proceeds); and
- adopting new technology where it helps us solve issues or meet objectives.
Is each point a complete sentence?
If your list does not start with a statement and a colon (:), each point needs to be a complete sentence starting with a capital letter and finishing with a full stop. This is a good option if your bullet points consist of more than one sentence. Here’s an example.
- This approach diverts a significant amount of organic waste from the landfill. That means it will reduce methane emissions and ETS costs.
- The Council may be eligible for support from the Waste Minimisation Fund for this project. This would halve the costs for ratepayers.
Consistency of bullet points and line spacing
Once you have checked all of the above, also check that you have consistently used:
- this kind of bullet point, or
- the dashes, as shown above.
Reports should generally include the round black bullet points shown above.
You should also check that the line spacing between each of the bullet points is the same size.
Check for consistency of heading styles, margin alignment, line spaces, spaces between sentences, font sizes and font types. Here’s a guide to using the styles tool in Word documents.
Oxford Dictionary —https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/
This is a very easy way to check the spelling of a word.
It’s much easier to find out if something is one word, two words but hyphenated or two separate words than it used to be using a paper copy of the dictionary.
Māori Dictionary —https://maoridictionary.co.nz/
This is a great resource for checking the spelling of Māori words, and where macrons are required. (The line above some vowels.)
Fit to Print — The Writing & Editing Style Guide for Aotearoa New Zealand
Jan Hughes and Derek Wallace, Dunmore Publishing Ltd, 2010