City of Gig Harbor Style Guide

This style guide is a reference and a guide, intended to improve accuracy and further our credibility. It is not a strict set of rules for all writing; it is a guide. The style guide is developed collaboratively, will evolve over time and is approved by the city clerk.


City of Gig Harbor Style Guide vs. the Associated Press Stylebook

The style guide augments the Associate Press Stylebook and the dictionary with terms commonly used by city communicators, writers and editors. In some cases, entries are unique to the city. For formal correspondence only, refer to the governor's Executive Correspondence Guidelines or the Gregg Reference Manual.


Applying the City of Gig Harbor Style Guide

Use the style guide as a quick-reference guide to prevent errors and inconsistencies in the use of government terms, media communications, grammar, and punctuation. If you have seen terms written differently, refer to the style guide to settle the question.


Add entries to the style guide or suggest revisions

The style guide is an evolving document. You may contact the city clerk with ideas for entries, comments and suggestions.


Style guide index

The following style standards are intended to help city writers and editors present information in a clear and consistent manner. These standards apply to a wide variety of documents, ranging from ordinances and resolutions to technical reports. This guide is not comprehensive, rather it includes style standards that are specific to the city or that address the most common writing errors. If you don't find what you need in the style guide, refer to the Associated Press Stylebook for guidance. 


General guidelines for document formatting

In most cases, these are the preferred formatting standards for city documents:

  • 8 ½ x 11” paper whenever possible
  • “Normal” 1-inch margins on all sides
  • Arial font (Arial Narrow font is acceptable in tables or lists where space is an issue)
  • 12-point font (10 point for footers). Larger font sizes may be used for headers.
  • Single line spacing. 
  • Paragraphs are not indented on the first line. Leave a blank line between paragraphs.
  • Align text left. Avoid using justified alignments.
  • One space between sentences.


abbreviations and acronyms 
In general, avoid the use of abbreviations and acronyms. If you choose to use them, spell out on first reference. When spelling out the first reference, only capitalize proper nouns: HOV (high occupancy vehicle), EIS (environmental impact statement), WSP (Washington State Patrol). Abbreviations and acronyms are acceptable in a headline. See the Associated Press Stylebook for more information. 


The occasion is rare when a writer can predict, for instance, that it will absolutely snow at a certain time. Use words such as may to provide flexibility. Similarly, be careful with the use of most and first when describing an event so you don't make an unsubstantiated claim.


active voice 
City of Gig Harbor style is to use active voice whenever possible. Active voice demonstrates responsibility and enhances readability.


Follow Associated Press style. Spell out and capitalize First through Ninth when used as street names: Northeast Fourth Avenue. Use figures for 10th and above: West 10th Street. When a street stands alone, spell it out: West Boren Avenue. When a number is included, abbreviate: 401 W. Boren Ave. Always spell out road, lane, alley, drive and terrace.


affect, effect 
Affect, as a verb, means to influence: The project will affect traffic. Avoid using affect as a noun.


Effect, as a verb, means to cause: The director will effect many changes in the organization. Effect, as a noun, means result: The effect was overwhelming.


boards, commissions and committees

Boards, commissions, and committees are always lowercase except when using their full formal designations.

  • The planning commission accepted public comment.
  • John Doe was appointed to the Gig Harbor Planning Commission.


Appropriate titles are commissioner, board member, and committee member. See titles for proper forms of address.


Only capitalize when part of a formal name. Capitalize Tacoma Narrows Bridge, but lowercase on second reference without full name: the bridge.


bulleted lists
Use bulleted lists to improve a document's readability. Use a colon to introduce lists. Capitalize the first letter of each item in the list and end each section of the list with a period, unless the items are single words. Also, reference lists intended as a menu of options require no punctuation.


Keep all items parallel by using the same language structure throughout the list. For example:


Make sure you bring:

  • Boots
  • Hats
  • Gloves
  • Jackets

To prepare for winter travel across mountain passes, consider:

  • Checking pass condition reports before you depart.
  • Packing a winter emergency kit in your car.
  • Telling family or friends about your route and schedule.
  • Updating your first aid training.

capital, Capitol 
Capital is the city where the seat of government is located. Do not capitalize. It also is used in a financial sense to mean wealth in money, equipment or property.


Capitol refers to the building in which the state legislature meets. It is always capitalized: The meeting is at the Capitol in Olympia.


Spell out the word and lowercase, using numerals for amounts less than a dollar: 5 cents. Use the $ sign and decimal system for larger amounts; $2.50



The city’s preference is to use the term “resident” instead of “citizen” in most instances. The term “citizen” can imply recognition of civil, political, and social rights which are not afforded to non-citizens. The term “resident” more appropriately encompasses all people residing in the city who are served by the City of Gig Harbor. 


city/City of Gig Harbor 
Capitalize city if part of a proper name, an integral part of an official name, or a regularly used nickname. Lowercase elsewhere, including all city of phrases: a Washington city, the city government


Capitalize when part of a formal title before a name: City Administrator Katrina Knutson. Lowercase when not part of the formal title: city Planning Commissioner Frank Smith.


city council 

City council is capitalized only when using the full name of the council: 

  • the Gig Harbor City Council; or,
  • The City of Council of the City of Gig Harbor (as prescribed for ordinances)

Use the term “city council” upon first reference and always precede it the article “the.” It is acceptable to use the term “council” on subsequent references. “Council” on its own should not be preceded by the article “the.”


On May 12, the city council met in study session. At the meeting council took no formal action.


city hall

The City of Gig Harbor does not have a "city hall." All references to the city’s main place of business should refer to the Civic Center to avoid confusion.


city staff

City staff is always lowercase. It is preferable to use the term “city staff” rather than simply “staff” when first making reference to city staff. Subsequent references in the same document may use the term “staff.”

Civic Center 

Civic Center or the Gig Harbor Civic Center are the proper names of the city’s main place of business. They are always capitalized. 


A comma should be used after the next-to-last item in a series of three or more items when the next-to-last and last items are separated by a conjunction (commonly referred to as the “Oxford comma” or “serial comma”).


CORRECT: I’d like to thank our wastewater treatment plant staff, the mayor, and the city administrator.

INCORRECT: I’d like to thank our wastewater treatment plant staff, the mayor and the city administrator.


compose, comprise, constitute 
Compose means to create or put together. Comprise means to contain, to include all or to embrace. Constitute, in the sense of form or make up, may be the best word if neither compose nor comprise seems to fit. See the AP Stylebook for more information.



The appropriate address for city councilmembers is “councilmember” – all one word without spaces or hyphens. “Councilor,” “councilperson,” “councilman,” “councilwoman,” and “council member” are not acceptable uses.


It is preferable to use the term “city councilmember(s)” rather than simply “councilmember(s)” when first making reference. Subsequent references in the same document may use the term “councilmember(s).”


Councilmember is always lowercase except when used as a formal title before a name.


Several city councilmembers expressed support for the proposal. Not all councilmembers supported the proposed funding options.


An idea was put forward by Councilmember Woock. The mayor thanked the councilmember for her comments.


Always follow the format of time, date, place: 2 p.m., Nov. 28, 2007. When a month is used with a specific date, abbreviate only Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov. and Dec. Spell out when using alone, or with a year alone.


Always use Arabic figures, without st, nd, rd or th: Oct. 9, not Oct. 9th.


When a phrase lists only a month and a year, do not separate the year with commas: November 2004.


When a phrase refers to a month, day and year, set off the year with commas: Please join us Jan. 24, 2007, at our open house.


Avoid using “between” when listing events of known duration. Instead, use “to”: The open house will be from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.


Listing the year generally is unnecessary if an event occurs during the same year as publication. The present year is assumed.


daylight saving time 
It's saving, not savings; not capitalized and no hyphen


Use figures and spell out inches, feet, yards, etc., to indicate depth, height, length and width. Hyphenate adjectival forms before nouns. See the AP Stylebook for examples.


Lowercase when referring to compass direction: east, western, northwest, southbound, etc. Capitalize when referring to a region: The storm hit the Northwest hard.


Always use figures: Crews will pave 4 miles of Interstate 5.


document titles

Document titles should be lowercase except when referencing the full name of the document.

  • As stated in the City of Gig Harbor Council Guidelines & Procedures…
  • Council recently amended its guidelines and procedures.
  • On July 12, council formally adopted the City of Gig Harbor Comprehensive Land Use Plan
  • It is once again time to conduct a periodic review of the city’s comprehensive plan.

effect, affect 
See affect, effect 


elected officials

Elected officials are listed by title, first and last name. Example: Sen. John Doe, Rep. Jane Smith. Add U.S. or state before a title only if necessary to avoid confusion. Do not list district or party affiliation after the official's name.


One word, do not hyphenate.


email signatures

The format for all city staff email signatures should be consistent with the following:

Joshua Stecker, CMC | City Clerk  

City of Gig Harbor 

3510 Grandview Street

Gig Harbor, WA 98335

(253) 853-7613 


Stay Connected! Sign up for the city’s weekly Gig-A-Byte email newsletter.

The signature should be in arial 12-point font, consistent with the text of the body of the email. Email signatures should be used in the initial correspondence on any external email. Follow-up correspondence on an email chain or internal email to city staff is not required to include an email signature.

Mobile email applications like Outlook and Apple Mail may not be able to edited to exactly reflect this style. Email signatures on mobile applications should be edited to match this style as closely as possible. 

Use of graphics or images is not allowed in email signatures, due to the inconsistency of email applications in properly displaying the images.


ensure, insure
Use ensure to mean guarantee: Steps were taken to ensure accuracy.

Use insure for references to insurance: The policy insures his life.


Lowercase when used as an adjective to distinguish something from state, county, city or town: federal funding, federal court, federal government. Use a capital letter for government bodies that use the word as part of their formal name: Federal Highway Administration.


highway names 
State Route 1, US 1 or Interstate 1 is preferred when referring to highways. Don't capitalize state route or interstate on second reference without a specified highway number: the interstate remains open. Don't capitalize route on second reference to a US route without specified highway number.


We use WSDOT style for highway names: Spell out "State Route 1" and "Interstate 2" on first reference, then abbreviate with "SR 1" or "I-2" on second reference, even if new highway route names are introduced in the sentence.


When including a hyperlink in a document, imbed the hyperlink in the descriptive text instead of typing out the full link. 


Correct: Please reference council’s guidelines and procedures.

Incorrect: Please reference council’s guidelines and procedures at 


internet, intranet


job descriptions 
Always lowercase. See titles.


Capitalize in all references to both houses of Washington state government, even when the state name is dropped: Washington Legislature. Both houses of the Legislature adjourned today.

Also capitalize in such constructions as: the 100th Legislature, the state Legislature. 

Lowercase legislature when used generically: No legislature has approved the amendment. 


Use legislature in lowercase for all plural references: The Arkansas and Colorado legislatures are considering the amendment. 


login (n.), log in (v.)



Mayor is capitalized only when used a formal title and immediately precede a name: 

  • The speaker introduced Mayor Tracie Markley.
  • Tracie Markley is the mayor of the City of Gig Harbor

 It is preferable to state the title first: Mayor Tracie Markley, not Tracie Markley, mayor.



Treat as a singular noun



The word meeting should not be capitalized. We will consider this matter further at the March 13 city council meeting.


newspaper names 
Capitalize articles if they are part of the publication's name. Insert a city name in parentheses for Washington newspapers if the originating city is not apparent, or if there are several newspapers by the same name. If you are writing about national publications, or you want to identify where the paper is based, include city and state in parentheses after the newspaper's name: The News Tribune (Tacoma, Washington). 


Check newspaper mastheads and websites for clarification. Web addresses are not always an indication.


  • The Seattle Times
  • Seattle Post-Intelligencer
  • The Herald (Everett)
  • The Bellingham Herald
  • Skagit Valley Herald
  • The Columbian
  • The News Tribune
  • The Peninsula Gateway
  • Seattle Weekly
  • USA Today ("Today" is not all capitalized, according to AP style.)

nonprofit (n., adj.) no hyphen.


Spell out numbers under 10. Use figures when referring to a person's age or dimensions. See distances. Spell out a numeral at the start of a sentence, except for years, or rephrase the sentence. Shorten long figures by using million or billion: $5 million, $5 billion. Use decimals when appropriate and round up: $5.4 million. Numbers less than one million should be written out numerically: $530,000, $4,000, $200. 


off-ramp, on-ramp 
Always to hyphenate.


One word. Never hyphenated.


One word. Never hyphenated.


The word “ordinance” is always lowercase, except when referring to a specific ordinance by number (i.e. Ordinance 1299). Do not include “No.” in an ordinance title (Ordinance 1299 = correct; Ordinance No. 1299 = incorrect).


orphans (in design) 
Orphans are acceptable, although widows should be avoided. These guidelines are primarily for people concerned with page layout. Orphan lines are single lines that appear at the bottom of a page, and orphan words are single words that are on a line by themselves at the end of a paragraph. They are called orphans because they have a future but no past. See also widows.


Spell out the word percent and always use figures: 1 percent, 2.5 percent (use decimals, not fractions). For amounts less than 1 percent, precede the decimal with a zero: The rate of accidents increased 0.8 percent. Repeat percent with every figure: WSDOT expects traffic in the area to increase 20 percent to 50 percent in the next 10 years.


phone numbers 
Parentheses around area codes, hyphenate. Always use area codes: (253) 851-6170. The format for toll-free numbers: (800) 111-1000. If extension numbers are needed, use a comma to separate the main number from the extension: (253) 851-6170, ext. 2.


plain talk 
Use language that is clear, simple and concise. Follow the general guidelines for state agencies provided by the Governor’s Office.


Only capitalize when part of a formal name. Capitalize I-405 Totem Lake Freeway Station Project, but lowercase on second reference without full name: the project.

Take care when claiming that a project is going to do something. A project can't close lanes of a highway during construction, but crews or engineers can. A project can, however, enhance safety or alleviate congestion.


Maintain subject-pronoun agreement. Avoid referring to an inanimate subject as they.

Incorrect: Microsoft unveils their new product this week. 
Correct: Microsoft unveils its new product this week.

Another option is to insert a responsible human "doer": Microsoft executives unveil their new product this week.


Problems maintaining gender neutrality with pronouns usually can be resolved by rewriting the sentence. Do not resort to nontraditional gimmicks such as s/he or he/she. Proposed alternatives, such as s/he, interrupt the flow of the sentence and appear to make a political point in the middle of whatever else the writer is trying to say.


One method of writing around the problem is to rewrite the sentence in a plural form.

Instead of: A staff member can access the data by logging in to his or her account.
Rewrite as plural: Staff members can access the data by logging in to their accounts.


When using a quote, consider these tips:

  • Don't use a quote to repeat a fact - a good quote provides new information, compelling imagery and a human perspective or opinion.
  • Avoid using quotes for factual data - numbers and statistics should be written as fact or paraphrased.
  • Write quotes as a conversation - contractions can make a sentence more personable and believable.
  • Use quotes to explain complex topics with analogies or metaphors.
  • Be brief - a quote is a way to drive a key message home or segue into another aspect of the work taking place.


Use of post-nominals following a person’s name should be done at the preference of the person. Post-nominals should not include punctuation (i.e. City Clerk Joshua Stecker, CMC).


rainstorm, rainwater 
Both are one word.


The word “resolution” is always lowercase, except when referring to a specific resolution by number (i.e. Resolution 1299). Do not include “No.” in a resolution title (Resolution 1299 = correct; Resolution No. 1299 = incorrect).


right of way, rights of way 


Lowercase spring, summer, fall, winter and derivatives such as springtime unless part of a formal name.


Use sparingly. Consider using a more descriptive term. Try perceivable or noticeable. If the significance is something you can describe, try the description instead. Rather than saying there is a significant dip in the highway, consider saying cars disappear from view as they travel through a dip in the highway. Without explanation, significant gives the unsubstantiated opinion of the writer.



Only one space between sentences.


Do not capitalize unless part of a formal name: the Washington State Department of Transportation.

Do not capitalize state in Washington state.

Do not capitalize state when used simply as an adjective to specify a level of jurisdiction: state Rep. William Smith, the state Transportation Department, state funds.


state names 
Spell out all state names. Follow AP style for state abbreviations, do not use postal code abbreviations: Wash. not WA, Ore. not OR.


stormwater (n.)


 Snowstorm, rainstorm, windstorm are all one word. Never a "snow event."


study session

Study sessions are meetings where no final action is taken and only discussions are intended to occur. They should not be referred to as “work sessions” or “workshops.” The term “study session” should not be capitalized.


that vs. which 
Use that and which to refer to inanimate objects and to animals without a name. Use that for essential clauses, important to the meaning of a sentence, and without commas: I remember the day that we met. Use which for nonessential clauses, where the pronoun is less necessary, and use commas: The team, which finished last a year ago, is in first place. (Tip: If you can drop the clause and not lose the meaning of the sentence, use which; otherwise, use that. A which clause is surrounded by commas; no commas are used with that clauses.)


Avoid referring to any item as a thing. There's always a better description.


Use figures except for noon and midnight. Use a colon to separate hours from minutes: 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3:30 p.m. Avoid redundancies such as 10 a.m. this morning, instead: 10 a.m. today.


One word.


time span 
Two words.


 Job titles are capitalized only when used a formal, title and immediately precede a name: Mayor Tracie Markley, City Clerk Josh Stecker.


When addressing a person by name and including their title, it is preferable to state the title first: City Clerk Josh Stecker, not Josh Stecker, City Clerk.


type style 
The City of Gig Harbor uses Arial font in print, electronic documents and email with a default 12-point font size. Headers may use various font sizes. Footers should be 10-point font size.


One word in all uses.


Washington state 
Always lowercase state unless it's an official title or department name: Washington State Department of Transportation, but state Department of Transportation and citizens of Washington state.


See that.


who or that 
If referring to an action by a person, use who. If referring to a thing, use that: Children responded to clowns who wore bright colors.


who, whom 
Refer to AP Stylebook. Whom receives an action. Tip: If you can change the sentence so there is an action to her, him or them, you usually will use whom. "She gave the ticket to the man with whom she was riding" could be changed to "She gave the ticket to him." But "The woman who was speeding got a ticket" would be changed to "She got a ticket."


widows (in page design) 
Widows should be avoided, although orphans are acceptable. These guidelines are primarily for people concerned with page layout. Widow lines are single lines that appear at the top of a page. They are called widows because they have a past but no future. You may need to insert a line break or edit or add text to prevent a widow line. See also orphans.