Clear, consistent use of language will add credibility to your advice so it’s well worth taking the time to proofread your document. If at all possible, take a break before beginning the proofreading process, in order to be able to see your document with fresh eyes.

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Proofreading rule #1: When to capitalise the word ‘council’

If it’s one particular council, capitalise it.
The 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 …

Proofreading rule #2: Use active language in council reports

 Use an active rather than a passive voice wherever possible.
The Council decided to … (active)
It has been decided that the Council will … (passive)

Proofreading rule #3: Check the apostrophes

If it’s something the Council owns, use an apostrophe.
The Council’s decision … 
If you can break it into ‘it is’ then use 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.

Proofreading rule #4: Manage your dashes

  1. Different organisations use either em-dashes or en-dashes to offset a word or phrase, creating a pause in the sentence. Find out what the style is for your organisation, and apply this consistently. When used in this way there should be a space on either side of the dash.

The submissions on upgrading the water treatment plant varied considerably — some were deeply opposed to any further rates increases, while others wanted the work to be completed urgently.

​(To create an em-dash use ctrl + alt + the dash at the top right hand side of your keyboard. To create an en-dash use ctrl + the dash at the top right hand side of your keyboard.)

2. En-dashes are used to connect two numbers. When used in this way there should be no space on either side of the dash.

The course is for people aged 15–19 years old and will begin in the 2018–19 year.

(To create an en-dash use ctrl + the dash at the top right hand side of your keyboard.)

3. Hyphens connect two words, and are also used in phone numbers.

Proofreading rule #5: Watch your numbers

 Spell out numbers from one to nine, then show larger numbers from 10 onwards as digits.

The exception to this rule is that sentences should not begin with a digit.
Fifty people submitted …
The Council received 50 submissions …

Proofreading rule #6: Write consistent lists

Lists are a great way to share technical information but inconsistent lists will confuse your readers. Here are three key ways to fix your lists.

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.

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.)

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. In particular, this is a good option if your bullet points consist of more than one sentence. Here are some examples.​

  • The Council may be eligible for support from the Waste Minimisation Fund for this project. This would halve the costs for ratepayers.
  • This approach diverts a significant amount of organic waste from the landfill. That means it will reduce methane emissions and ETS costs.Another way to generate new ideas is to initiate two or three creative conversations with individuals in different departments from your own. Ask for and listen to the other person’s ideas related to a specific question with an open mind (for further consideration in the convergence phase).


Proofreading rule #7: Check for overall consistency

Check for consistency of heading styles, line spaces, spaces between sentences, font sizes and font types.


Online resources

Oxford Dictionary —
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 —
This is a great resource for checking the spelling of Māori words, and where macrons are required. (The line above some vowels.)


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Your contribution was illustrated by the way you grappled with the dog control policy and bylaw. You remained committed to high quality community engagement through being professional, actively listening and seeking the best solution for our city. You have promoted and demonstrated personal leadership and positive attitudes.

Richard Johnson, Acting Chief Executive, Nelson City Council (October 2012)

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