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Meeting Minutes: Grammar Tips for Clerks

June 9, 2014
by Jacque Porte

As the minutes clerk for your organization, you may find yourself perplexed by the grammar choices in your meeting minutes. Some unexpected nouns might be capitalized, titles might be lowercase, and politically-correct terms take on a new complexity. Here are a few tips to help you avoid some of the confusion.

City or city? Your organization may ask you to capitalize City or Town, even when your city or town name do not appear in a formal name. For example, the City of Ocala minutes will capitalize City when referring to itself: “The City staff will investigate,” or “The speaker expressed concern about the duck population in the City”; but not when referring to other cities: “City Manager Brower returned from Lincoln City and reported that the city center was beautiful.”

Aldermen/Alderman/Alderwoman? Organizations across the globe have taken several different approaches to gender equality in naming. You are probably familiar with the push to use the term “police officer” rather than “policeman,” but what about other examples? Are the titles “waiter” or “actor” gender-specific? Whatever your own views, your board will likely have taken a stance when providing the appropriate title to board members. One of our clients uses the term Board of Aldermen and refers to all members as aldermen, “Alderman Jane Doe,” while other boards use gender-specific terms, “Councilwoman Jane Doe,” while still others uses gender-anonymous titles, “Council Member Jane Doe.”

Special names. In rare cases, your board members or members of the public may have special capitalization requirements for their names. Poet Gloria Jean Watkins, for example, is better known by her pen name bell hooks, and explains that the unconventional lowercasing emphasizes the “substance of books, not who I am.”

Always capitalize holidays, awards, events, highways, and roads. For example: Pulitzer Prize, Renaissance, Thanksgiving, Interstate 95, Green Avenue.

District/district. Use numerals and capitalize district when identifying a specific one (the 1st Congressional District), use lowercase district whenever the word stands alone.

Bodies of Government. Capitalize state agencies (U.S. Department of Defense) and use lowercase names when they stand alone (fire department, state police).

Council/counsel. Be sure to make sure which one of these two words you are using: a council is a group of people who come together to make decisions (“Council voted to approve the item”), whereas a counsel or counselor gives advice (“They deferred to legal counsel”).

Board Member. Capitalize Board Member when being used as a title before a name (“Board Member Harry Smith”), but not when referring to unnamed members of the group (”A board member commented on the case”).

You’ll notice that there are some grammar rules that are consistent and dependable regardless of your organization, but for those cases specific to your board, be sure to keep a notepad or post-it nearby for quick reference during your transcription. Happy typing!

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