Writing copy

People don’t read every word on a webpage. They skim over the content. We need to structure our writing to work with skimming, not against it.

Address the user as ‘you’

Write as you would talk to real people.

Use ‘you’ for the person getting the service. The department behind the service is ‘us’ or ‘we.'‌

Clarity is more important than following the rules, so name the department if it’s confusing to use ‘we.’

If you are an independent contractor or conduct business in San Francisco for 7 days or more, you need to register.

If you do business with or receive money from the City, you need to register.

Avoid gender-specific pronouns

Don’t use pronouns like 'he', 'she', and 'hers'. Using 'you' and 'we' should prevent the need to use pronouns.

If you can’t avoid using pronouns, use the gender-neutral pronouns 'they' and 'their'.


If you are under 18 years old, you must have a court order to get married.

Check if they are eligible for a Green Card.

Don’t Do

If the bride is under 18 years of age she must obtain a court order.

Check if he/she is eligible for a Green Card.


People who read English as a second language will have a better chance of understanding your writing. Anyone stressed or in a rush will also have a better chance of understanding what you’ve written.

If you write at a 5th-grade reading level, your writing is easier to translate.

Copy your writing and paste it into the Hemingway Editor to get the reading level.

Write short sentences

Respect your reader’s time and keep sentences short. Users understand 100% of sentences at 9 words or less. Even at 14 words comprehension stays at 90%.

Short sentences help people with cognitive impairments. Short sentences are easier for everyone to read.

Paragraphs should have 3 sentences or less. Write subheadings about every 3 paragraphs.

Use bulleted lists instead of long sentence lists. Convert a sentence to a bulleted list if there are more than 3 items.

You can apply for a Certified Authorized Copy of a birth certificate for:

  • Yourself

  • Your child

  • Your spouse, parent, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, or state-registered domestic partner

An authorized copy establishes the identity of the registrant (child named on the certificate) and may only be issued to the registrant (person listed on the certificate), a parent or legal guardian of the registrant (legal guardian must provide documentation), or a child, grandparent, grandchild, brother or sister, spouse, or domestic partner of the registrant.

Use strong verbs

Verbs make it easy to get involved or take action. Strong verbs tell readers what they need to do.

An easy way to check is to add “Now you can…” to the beginning of your sentence and see if it makes sense.

Pay your parking ticket

Register a new business

Parking ticket payment process

Business Registration Certificate

Use active voice

Writing in the passive voice makes your content more difficult to understand.

It also increases the reading level. It usually adds more words to the sentence.

San Franciscans can do what they need to do when we are clear and direct.

You must register your car.

You must pay $25 for a birth certificate. If we look for a birth certificate but can't find it, we will not return your money.

All cars in San Francisco must be registered.

A non-refundable record search fee will be charged.

Write positively

Use positive language rather than negative language. One way to detect negative language is to look for words like ‘cannot’ and ‘do not’.

We accept check or money order only.

To get a donut, stand in line.

We do not accept cash or credit cards.

You can’t get a donut if you don’t stand in line.