Minnesota Department of Transportation

511 Travel Info

Design System

Grammar and mechanics

You should:

  • Use contractions (such as can’t and won’t)
  • Not let caveats dictate unwieldy grammar (for example, say You can rather than You may be able to)
  • Use the language people are using
  • Use Google Trends to check for common search terms
  • Use short sentences
  • Check sentences with more than 25 words to see if you can split them for clarity

Words ending in –ion and -ment tend to make sentences longer and more complicated than necessary. Avoid turning verbs into nouns, a common sign of governmentese at work.

Keep sentences short and sweet

Craft sentences at 25 words or fewer, whenever possible. If a sentence has fewer than 14 words, readers understand 90 percent of content. At 25 words, sentences are markedly more difficult to comprehend.
We also recommend varying sentence length. Switching things up helps you keep readers interested. This tactic will also give you better control of your content’s tone— a text with only short sentences can unintentionally sound terse. The occasional longer sentence adds a bit of narrative interest (and can help a piece of writing sound friendlier, too).

Here’s an example of how you might transform a too-long sentence into something more manageable. Instead of:

Due to privacy and logistical considerations, passes cannot be replaced if lost or stolen; a new Paper Voucher must be accessed by going to the everykidinapark.gov website and completing the same activities to obtain a new Paper Voucher.


Unfortunately, we can’t replace lost or stolen passes. Get a new pass by visiting everykidinapark.gov and signing up again.

In general do not use abbreviations, acronyms or jargon. For example, do not use the following:

  • TH: Instead use Highway or Hwy
  • CSAH or MSAS: Instead use county road, county highway, city street
  • Termini: Instead use beginning or end
  • Corridor: Instead use highway or area
  • Citizen: Instead use person, driver, resident, etc.
  • Stage or Phase: Instead use year, section, etc.

  • Abbreviate street titles and include a period (Ave., Blvd., Rd., St.)
  • Abbreviate cardinal directions and include a period (200 W. Fifth Ave.)
  • Spell out numbers below 10 when used as street names (W. Eighth St.); use numerals for numbers for 10 and above (W. 23rd St.)
  • Do not use superscript for ordinal numbers in addresses (108 10th St.)
  • Always use numerals for an address number (9 Vista Blvd.; 111 Saint Pl.)

  • Use a.m. and p.m. (8:30 a.m., 2-5 p.m., 10 a.m.-1 p.m.)
  • Use 12 p.m., or noon, but not both.
  • Use a cardinal number to express dates. (March 1, not March 1st)
  • When a month is used with a specific date, abbreviate months longer than 5 letters. (Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov., and Dec.) Spell month in other cases. Lowercase seasons. (Work begins spring 2014)

  • Phone numbers: Use this style 555-555-5555.
  • Percent: Use the % sign in tables. Otherwise, follow Associated Press style which is to spell out percent.
  • Indicate numbers 10 and above with figures, unless they begin a sentence. (Ten people arrived at once.) Use figures for grades 10 and above.
  • If numbers above and below 10 are used in a single sentence, it is acceptable to use figures for all of them. (The bill received 27 yes votes and 15 no votes, while 3 people abstained.)
  • If numbers are used as a measurement, use figures even if the numbers are under 10. (Toll rose by 5 percent; 2 miles)

  • Use a single space after periods and colons.
  • Do not indent the first sentence of each paragraph. Do include a line break between each paragraph.

  • email
  • login
  • nonprofit
  • online
  • policymaker
  • smartphone
  • website
  • workforce

  • a lot
  • child care
  • day care
  • health care
  • home page
  • log into

  • People should be referred to as “who” not “that.” (Drivers who obey traffic laws tend to have fewer tickets.)
  • “That” and “which” are not interchangeable. “Which” should usually come after a comma (an exception would be “in which”).
  • Commonly misused or misspelled words include:
    • Affect as a verb means to influence; effect as a verb means to cause; effect as a noun means the outcome
    • Assure as a verb means to promise; ensure means to guarantee; insure means protect, in terms of insurance
    • Averse (an intense dislike of something) v. adverse (unfavorable or harmful)
    • Cancel, canceled and canceling (all only one “l”), but cancellation requires two l’s
    • Comprise (to include all) v. consists of (includes certain things) v. compose (to create). The United States comprises 50 states. The training consists of four main modules.
    • Farther (refers to physical distance) and further (can be used as a substitute for additional or more)
    • Than (a conjunction used to compare things) v. then (used in relation to time or when describing the order of events)
    • Toward, not towards (no final “s”)
    • Who (the subject of a clause) v. whom (the object of a clause) (Who would like to eat lunch with me? To whom was the letter addressed?)