proofreading checklist 

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Use an active rather than a passive voice wherever possible


Active voice is about starting a sentence with who is doing what.

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)


Active voice = the person/Council comes first, and they do something

  • Council completed the transfer station work in July.


Passive voice = the person/Council turns up late

  • In July the transfer station work was completed by Council.
More examples of active and passive sentences

  •  Council adopted all of the recommendations in the report. (Active)


  • All of the report recommendations were adopted by Council. (Passive)


Correct use of Council, councils and Council’s


If it’s one particular council, capitalise the word ‘Council’, as shown below.

  • 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, as shown below:

  • 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, as shown below.

  • The A and B District Councils’ chief executives met …


More examples


  • Cost-effective options are likely to involve the use of new technology and partnerships with others, including B District Council and Waka Kotahi.


  • The National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS-UD) requires all councils to provide sufficient infrastructure to meet the needs of their communities.


  • Council’stop three priorities for the next 10 years are ecological restoration, housing and employment initiatives.


Its and it’s


Ask yourself if your sentence makes sense when you split its into it and is. If so, add an apostrophe.

  • It’s going to be a close election


If your sentence doesn’t make sense when you try splitting it into it and is, then ‘its’ 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.


More examples

  • 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 on 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.


The apostrophe goes after the s where a word ends in s, AND you need to convey ownership of something


  • Ten athletes’ travel plans were disrupted.
  • The councillors’ meeting venue was changed.


No apostrophe is needed where a word ends in s but there is no ownership is involved


  • The marine sediments on which the building will be constructed pose structural challenges.
  • The resource consentsfor the new housing area will be scrutinised through this process.




Use the full word the first time, with the acronym in brackets, the first time you use it. Don’t include the acronym if the term is not used again in your report.

  • The submission from the Automobile Association (AA) expressed concern about …


  • The Wastewater Activity Management Plan (AMP) identifies …

Note: Don’t use acronyms in report recommendations as they need to be able to make sense when read separately from the report.


Acronyms and apostrophes

Only use an apostrophe after an acronym to convey ownership.

  • Waka Kotahi 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 effectof the rates rise is shown on page 5. (Noun)


Practise and practice

Practise is a verb and practice is a noun.


  • People who practise their golf swings in the camping ground can be a hazard to other people.
  • We will be practisingthis skill over the next three weeks.


  • Council recommends the practice of using hay bales to control sediment.
  • The recommendations were too expensive to put into practice.


When to use ‘has’ and ‘have’

Use has when there is only one person or organisation (singular):

  • 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


Use have when there is more than one person (plural):

  • we have, they have, the Councillors have … made a decision



I have  … but I have no idea why this exception applies!



In most cases this word should begin with a lower case i. However, a capital I should be used when referring to a particular tribe.

See the Māori dictionary for more information — 


Use en-dashes or 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 includes a proposal to prioritise infrastructure spending over social projects and/or paying off debt and is seeking feedback from the community about this option.



  • To create an em-dash, press down on ctrl + alt + the minus symbol at the far right of your computer keyboard. 
  • To create an en-dash use ctrl + the dash at the top right hand side of your keyboard.


The key point is to be consistent once you decide on using either en-dashes or em-dashes in these situations. Your organisation may have a preferred style.


Em-dashes or en-dashes can also be used to separate subheadings from text



  • Earthquakes Earthquakes are a considerable risk to the transport network, especially in areas of reclaimed coastal margins and steep hillside suburbs. The transport assets most at risk are bridges and retaining walls.


En-dashes are used to connect two numbers

Do not include a space on either side of the dash when this is being used to connect numbers.

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

  • 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. 


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 is hyphenated rather than two separate words, or just one word without a hyphen. When you are unsure, you can check at:


  • If you are writing a long document, or find you are checking the same word all the time, it’s worthwhile making a list of the correct spelling of those words.


Correct use of macrons

A macron is a straight bar across some Māori vowels, which indicates a ‘long vowel’. This provides guidance on how to pronounce the word.



  • Māori
  • Whakatū
  • kōrero


Note: To include a letter with a macron in your document: Insert / Symbol / select (eg ā or ū)



The general rule is to 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, such as in tables within a document.

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, as shown below:

  • 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.


Consistent lists

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
  • a mix of verbs and nouns in the first words
  • punctuation
  • line spacing.


Here are five key ways to fix your lists.

1. Avoid capitalisation of the first letter

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).

2. Check that each point starts 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 …


Note: To check if something is a noun, try adding the word ‘the’ in front of it and see if it sounds right.


Example of a list starting with nouns:

  • the wastewater plant
  • the building
  • the Council officer


Example of a list starting with verbs:

  • treating … waste
  • entering … the building
  • advising … the Council


3. Check that each point finishes 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.

However, 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.)


More examples

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:

  • natural hazard management
  • maintenance and renewal of existing assets
  • maintenance or improvement of environmental outcomes.

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 state highway with the local network (as the project proceeds); and
  • adopting new technology where it helps us solve issues or meet objectives.

4. Consider whether each point is a complete sentence or not

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, as shown in the following list. 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.

 5. Check for 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
  • dashes (like this –).

You should also check that the line spacing between each of the bullet points is the same size.


Consistent formatting

Check for consistency of heading styles, margin alignment, line spaces, spaces between sentences, font sizes and font types. Use of the styles functions in Word will help you to be consistent.


Further resources

Oxford Dictionary

This is a very easy way to check the spelling of a word.

It’s now much easier to find out if something is one word, two words but hyphenated, or two separate words than it used to be when we were reliant on 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.)

Fit to Print — The Writing & Editing Style Guide for Aotearoa New Zealand

Jan Hughes and Derek Wallace, Dunmore Publishing Ltd, 2010

Click here to download a printable copy of this checklist