Office of Council Services Editorial Style Guide
The Office of Council Services provides research, clerical, and logistical support to the committees of the Maui County Council and to Councilmembers in the performance of their official legislative duties. OCS also provides administrative services to the Council Chair, the Councilmembers’ offices, and the Council’s district offices. In the County’s legislative process, the role of OCS is to staff the County Council’s committees and provide objective assistance to individual Councilmembers.
OCS focuses on providing services that enable the Council to decide legislative issues through a process that is lawful, reasonable, and efficient.
In its work, OCS furthers the principles of legal compliance, professionalism, accuracy, fairness, and efficiency.
The work of OCS staff is divided into three main categories:
- Committee assignments: Typically, a Legislative Analyst, Legislative Attorney, and Committee Secretary are assigned to staff each standing committee. The committee staff’s work is executed primarily under the committee chair’s direction, subject to supervision by OCS management.
- Project assignments: At the request of a Councilmember, the Supervising Legislative Analyst, via a Project Assignment Form, will assign staff from the Research Section to conduct research, drafting, and other assignments.
- General assignments: At the beginning of each term, the Director of Council Services makes assignments to the Administrative Support Section to provide general support to the Councilmembers and OCS, including those relating to purchasing, payroll, and information technology. OCS services are provided to Councilmembers subject to these standards and other OCS policies. Councilmembers are not obligated to use OCS services.
OCS documents should be accurate, readable, and concise, in that priority. Favor simple over complex words and sentences, specific over vague words, and active over passive verbs. Eliminate unnecessary words and clauses. Minimize jargon.
Purpose of OCS Editorial Style Guide:
The purpose of this guide is to provide a writing style guide to OCS staff. Departure from the guide may be justified under certain circumstances, but the responsible staff should be prepared to justify the departure based on other OCS principles.
- For legislation, the general style manual is Hawaii Legislative Drafting Manual (10th ed.).
- For media-related documents, such as press releases and social media, the general style manual is AP Stylebook (2011 ed.)
- For other documents, such as correspondence and reports, the general style manual is The Gregg Reference Manual (9th ed.).
The general body of English reference publications may be referenced for style issues not addressed by this guide, notably including “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser and “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White. The Merriam-Webster dictionary is the primary OCS dictionary.
- “/” (slash)
- acronyms, parentheses, other techniques that may hinder readability
- adjectives, adverbs, qualifiers
- advance listings
- arcane, technical, or unusual language
- “attachment” vs. “enclosure”
- “because” vs. “since”
- “because of” vs. “due to”
- bill and resolution titles
- blog posts
- capitalization in legislation
- capitalization of specific types of land use terms of art
- ceremonial resolutions
- Charter references
- committee meeting and site inspection agendas
- “Councilmember” vs. “Council member”
- email tips
- gender-neutral terminology
- geographic references
- “including but not limited”
- item headings
- lengthy or complicated information
- press releases
- Project Assignment Forms
- recipients of resolutions
- tax map keys
- “that” vs. “which”
- titles of officials on second reference
The use of “/” (slash) is discouraged.
acronyms, parentheses, other techniques that may hinder readability:
Minimize the use of acronyms, parentheses, and other techniques that may hinder readability. When acronyms are helpful, the preference is to use only acronyms that are obvious in the context of the document, so they do not need to be explained in parentheses. Acronyms should usually only be used on second reference; the full name should be spelled out on first reference. If an acronym would not be clear on second reference, avoid using it. Instead, consider using a shortened version of the name, such as the agency, the committee, the department, the division, or the company. The convention of using “(s)” at the end of a word in an attempt to show both singular and plural versions of the word should not be in used in bills, resolutions, or any other documents. For legislation, the singular version will be read as plural, and the plural version will be read as singular as warranted by the context. For other documents, the singular and plural versions can be spelled out, when needed.
adjectives, adverbs, qualifiers:
Avoid the overuse of adjectives, adverbs, and qualifiers. Many are filler words that hinder good writing. Here are common filler words to avoid:
An advance listing is a summary of the recommendations in a committee report that is provided to the County Clerk for assistance in preparing the Council agenda. Each committee posting one or more committee reports on a Council agenda shall prepare an advance listing.
The committee analyst drafts the advance listing, and the Committee Secretary, Supervising Legislative Attorney, and Director of Council Services review it.
Phrase the advance listing in a way that strikes a balance between the need to provide meaningful public notice and the need to avoid restricting the Council’s flexibility in amending or otherwise acting on the matter.
Do not use “approximately” or similar terms with respect to precise numbers, such as when decimal points are used.
arcane, technical, or unusual language:
When arcane, technical, or unusual terminology must be used, provide an explanation.
“attachment” vs. “enclosure”:
“attachment” is generally preferred over “enclosure” when there is an arguable choice between the two.
“because” vs. “since”:
“because” is generally preferred over “since” when there is an arguable choice between the two.
“because of” vs. “due to”:
“because of” is generally preferred over “due to” when there is an arguable choice between the two. See Gregg at page 290.
bill and resolution titles:
To address the issue of adequate notice to the public under the Sunshine Law, use the following general standards for bill and resolution titles.
- Titles should be detailed enough to allow them to be distinguished from other bills and resolutions. References to Maui County Code provisions can be helpful, but can also negatively impact readability. Use your judgment.
- Titles should provide adequate notice to the public of the subject of the bill or resolution.
- Titles should not conflict with reasonably foreseeable amendments.
A blog post should generally be written in the style of a press release.
capitalization in legislation:
In non-codified portions of a bill, use capitalization standards used for correspondence, even if inconsistent with the codified portions of the bill.
capitalization of specific types of land use terms of art:
In most cases, capitalize the following land use terms of art, defined in the County Code, even when used generally:
- “Community Plan Amendment”
- “Maui Island Plan Amendment”
- “General Plan Amendment”
- “Conditional Permit”
- “Change in Zoning”
- “District Boundary Amendment”
- “Short-Term Rental Home”
- “Bed and Breakfast Home”
Consider the following guidelines when reviewing ceremonial resolutions, which are typically drafted by the introducing Councilmember’s office:
- Ceremonial resolutions do not carry the force and effect of law and, therefore, do not need to be approved as to form and legality.
- Titles should be concise and descriptive, and commonly begin with the words “Congratulating,” “Recognizing,” or “Expressing Condolences.”
- The title and the first BE IT RESOLVED clause are usually identical.
- Draft the broadest WHEREAS paragraphs first, followed by more definitive statements in the subsequent paragraphs, usually in chronological order.
- The WHEREAS paragraphs should consist of one sentence only. If the sentence becomes too long, wordy, or flowery, the paragraph should be separated into two paragraphs. Longer paragraphs invite errors in sentence structure, parallelism, and grammar.
- The WHEREAS clauses are introductory and are intended to state accepted premises, including facts, observations, or opinions.
- In the BE IT RESOLVED clause, the name of each recipient should be separated from the recipient’s title by a comma. When reference to a recipient contains commas, multiple recipients should be separated by semicolons.
The correct formal citation for the County Charter is “Revised Charter of the County of Maui (1983), as amended.” “Charter” is acceptable on second reference. “Charter Section __-__” is preferred to “Section __-__, Charter.”
committee meeting and site inspection agendas:
Regular meeting agendas and site inspection agendas should indicate specific locations and times to the extent possible. Street addresses are preferred over tax map key references.
The “Description” section for each agenda item should indicate bills and resolutions by title, followed by a purpose statement. Focus the reader on the version of the bill or resolution the committee will be considering by listing the title for the operative version only. Use “relating to” rather than “pertaining to” in the purpose statement. Try to describe the purpose of the bill using the primary purpose even if there are various changes. If there are two or more separate purposes, describe the purposes as plural and enumerate the separate purposes.
The “Status” section for each agenda item should provide a general range of potential committee action.
Generally use “correspondence” to refer to all forms of written communication, including letters, memos and emails.
“Councilmember” vs. “Council member”:
“Councilmember” (one word) is the preferred reference to members of the Maui County Council, unless circumstances make it more appropriate or convenient to use “Council member.”
Capitalize “County” in legislation when referring to the County of Maui.
- Assume you are creating a public record each time you send a message. Do not send a message that’s not appropriate to be published in the newspaper.
- If the focus of an email discussion changes, revise the subject line accordingly.
- To facilitate future research, consider including any relevant committee-item number or PAF number in the subject line.
- Take care to consider whether the appropriate recipients have been identified, particularly when replying. Don’t use “Reply All” if you only need to respond to the sender. Do use “Reply All” if it appears likely the original sender wants your response to be seen by others. Consider adding additional recipients who could benefit from seeing your response. Please take the necessary time to think about these options before replying.
- When writing to the Director of Council Services or the Council Chair, it is often a good idea to copy your supervisor.
- If using an iPad or iPhone, consider deleting the default “Sent from my iPad” or “Sent from my iPhone” signature line. There is no need for recipients to know what device you are using.
- Use spell check. Use good grammar. Particularly when drafting a lengthy or significant message, consider following the guidelines of a writing manual such as Gregg or the AP Stylebook. Email messages are important in our office. Good writing is always beneficial.
- When requesting a document to be reviewed, take the time to provide the reviewer with helpful context, including by providing a statement on the document’s time sensitivity (this is mandatory for rush reviews), attaching the PAF, and listing relevant SharePoint or web links. Usually the basic review request should be in the subject line and additional information in the body.
- It is usually helpful to explain why you are forwarding a message.
- Brevity is valued in all of our writing, but especially in email messages. It can be appropriate to send a message that only uses the subject line.
- In staff-to-staff messages, informal language, slang, emoticons, jokes and the like can be appropriate.
- Consider providing a SharePoint link or web link rather than an attachment.
Gender-neutral language is the OCS standard for all documents, except when there is a need to specific gender.
On meeting agendas and in committee reports, the preferred way to identify a property is by street address, such as “123 Main Street, Wailuku, Maui, Hawaii.” If there is a street address, do not also include the tax map key. When a street address is not available, a property should be identified by a location description and a tax map key (for example, “property directly mauka of the County Building, identified for real property tax purposes as tax map key (2) 3-5-057:057”). These standards may also be applicable to other types of documents, as circumstances warrant.
“including but not limited”:
This phrase is disfavored and rarely, if ever, appropriate to use. Use of “including” normally does not include any inference or implication that what follows is an exclusive list. But if the drafter believes that such an inference or implication is possible (and it is not intended), clearer and more concise wording can be used; “such as” or “for example” are options to consider.
Each item heading on committees’ master agendas should provide a concise, easily understood description of the subject matter, detailed enough to make the item distinct, yet broad enough to allow for the reasonable development or evolution of the subject matter. Item headings may be revised if necessary to further the goal of adequate public notice on a meeting agenda and to promote efficiency in the legislative process.
“legislation” generally can refer to bills and resolutions.
lengthy or complicated information:
Consider the use of lists, bullet points, and tables to describe lengthy or complication information.
Do not precede a number with “No.” except when referring to quoted material.
Use “percent” instead of “per cent” in legislation and other documents. This is a deviation from the Hawaii Legislative Drafting Manual.
A press release should be written so that it is capable of being inserted in its entirety into a newspaper. Therefore, a journalistic writing style should be used, which is more concise than other forms of writing. Space is at a premium because newspapers have a limited number of pages. An objective tone is a trademark of journalistic writing.
Project Assignment Forms:
Projects calling for research, writing, special projects, or other non-committee work are assigned by the Supervising Legislative Attorney in a Project Assignment Form. For research-oriented PAFs, the assigned staff person will typically prepare a memo to the requester. The first statement of such a memo should often include a concise statement of the staff’s understanding of the requested work. Though the term “PAF” is appropriate in intra-office communication, remember that those outside of OCS will generally not recognize it.
recipients of resolutions:
Recipients of resolutions should be listed in the final “BE IT RESOLVED” clause. Generally, order the recipients of resolutions based on the following hierarchy: President of the United States; Vice President of the United States; United States Senators (based on leadership rank and then seniority); Members of Congress (based on leadership rank and then seniority); Governor of the State of Hawaii; State Senators (based on leadership rank and then seniority); State Representatives (based on leadership rank and then seniority); Mayor of the County of Maui; other United States government officials (based on order of succession in United States Constitution); other State of Hawaii officials (based on order of succession in State Constitution); other Maui County officials (based on order of succession in Charter); nationally operating or recognized entities or individuals; statewide operating or recognized entities or individuals; and locally operating entities or individuals.
tax map keys:
According to the Department of Finance, Real Property Tax Division, the last two numbers (the plat number and the parcel number) should be either two digits and three digits, respectively, or three digits each. For example: (2) 3-5-57:057 or (2) 3-5-057:057. Both references would be correct, but in all cases, the last number should be three digits. OCS uses the following standards for tax map keys:
- Spell out “tax map key.” Do not use the abbreviation “TMK.”
- Use three digits for both the plat number and the parcel number (such as “(2) 3-5-057:057”).
- Colons: Do not use a colon after “tax map key.” Use a colon between the plat number and the parcel number, with no space after the colon.
- When referencing a portion of a tax map key, do not use the abbreviation “por.” Write it out as follows: “identified for real property tax purposes as a portion of tax map key (2) 3-5-057:057.”
- When referencing multiple tax map keys, do not repeat “tax map key”; simply add an “s” to “key” (such as “tax map keys (2) 3-5-057:057 and (2) 3-5-057:058”).
- When referencing multiple tax map keys with identical elements except for the parcel number, it is also acceptable to use this form: “tax map keys (2) 3-5-057:057 and 058.” Do not use “&.”
OCS provides templates to staff to give a general outline for various types of documents.
Minimize use of the word “that” unless necessary for meaning or part of the recommendations paragraph of a committee report.
“that” vs. “which”:
“that” is generally preferred over “which” when there is an arguable choice between the two. See Gregg at paragraph 1062.
titles of officials on second reference:
Titles of officials should be shortened on second reference when the identity of the official is clear. For example, “Director” can be used for “Director of Public Works,” “Deputy Director” can be used for “Deputy Planning Director,” and “Deputy” can be used for “Deputy Corporation Counsel.”