This writing style guide is intended to help maintain consistency in Secretary of State written materials, and offers clarification of commonly confused terminology and writing rules. Created by a team of representatives from every Secretary of State division, this guide offers general policies that apply to nearly all professional writing originating at the Secretary of State’s office.

This guide assumes a minimum level of communication skills, and is not intended to be an exhaustive how-to manual or English instruction book. Additional program-specific rules and exceptions may apply (e.g., an attorney filing a court brief must follow a prescribed format and use certain legal words).

The Secretary of State’s office strives to publish work that consistently reflects high professional standards, communicating efficiently and respectfully in plain language. Whenever possible, your writing should:

  • Be clear and consistent in tone, voice and structure.
  • Be succinct and use plain language, rather than bigger words or insider jargon that have the same meaning. (For example, “use simple words” is easier to understand than “utilize less complicated verbiage.”)
  • Be spell-checked, both manually and with software. (A spell-check program will not catch incorrect usage of a correctly spelled word such as “statue” versus “statute” or “pubic” versus “public.”)
  • Be accurate. Fact-check names, dates, numbers, addresses, deadlines, statutory citations, quotations, math and more.
  • Use gender-neutral words, and avoid sexism, bias and stereotyping.
  • Use positive or neutral statements. (“The filing deadline is June 1” is more positive than “Don’t forget to file by June 1.” “Leave the door open” is more positive than “Do not close the door.”)
  • Use an active voice that retains the actor (“The Secretary of State will publish a final report”) rather than a passive voice (“A report will be issued”).
  • Use second-person voice (“You may be qualified to enroll”) or third-person voice (“All corporations are subject to state and federal tax laws”).
  • Use American English language, except when specifically required by law.
  • Avoid clichés, slang and figures of speech that many readers may not recognize.

All written materials produced for distribution outside the Secretary of State’s office must be submitted to the appropriate unit supervisor or division chief for approval before release.