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Be Ready to Write Effectively

Writing happens throughout municipal operations, in everything from drafting a council meeting agenda or resolution to crafting inter-office email or responding to the media. Writing well can be the difference between conveying a message correctly, or undermining a message.

These writing tips can help with writing for any audience:

  1. The first draft is never the best product. Edit, rewrite, then edit some more. Rest between drafts. Let someone else look at a draft, then edit some more.
  2. Editing and proofing are different processes, and both are important. Editing is the process of making changes for such reasons as clarity, flow of ideas and factual accuracy. Proofing is the process of looking for grammatical, spelling or punctuation changes to correct. 
  3. Active voice almost always wins out over passive voice. This is the difference between “the person took the action” and “the action was taken by the person.” For example, consider saying “The mayor cut the ribbon to officially open the new park” is more effective than “The ribbon was cut by the mayor to open the new park.”
  4. Use simple words for impact. There are many examples:
    “Find out” instead of “ascertain”
    “Send out” instead of “disseminate”
    “Use” instead of “utilize”
    “Best” instead of “optimum”
    “Explain” instead of “find an explanation for”
  5. Know the difference between “it’s,” and “its.” The first means “it is” and the second is possessive. This is the difference between “it’s time to go” and “the bag fell on its side.”
  6. Know when to use “I” and when to use “me.” For example, “he is going with John and me” is correct. Think of it without John, so that it reads “he is going with me.” A writer who leaves John out of the sentence would not write, “He is going with I.”
  7. Understand the difference between “that,” “which” and “who.” “That” is used for essential clauses in a sentence, for example, “the car that crashed into the tree could not be salvaged.” “Which” appears in nonessential clauses and often requires a comma, for example, “the car, which is blue, crashed into the tree.” When comparing “that” to “who,” “that” refers to an object while “who” refers to a person.
  8. Know when to use “affect” and “effect.” “Affect” is a verb, “effect” is a noun, as seen in “the effect of the storm on the sports schedule will affect games for the reason of the year.” 
  9. Understand compound modifiers. These are phrases acting together as an adjective modifying a noun, generally require hyphens. For example, with “city-owned street,” “city-owned” acts as an adjective telling the reader what kind of street it is. Hyphens are not used, however, when the phrase contains an adverb containing an “-ly,” for example, “highly praised officer.” 
  10. Keep sentences parallel. “She likes reading books, watching movies and going to the library” would be correct. It would be incorrect to write “I like reading books, watch movies and to go to the library.”