Writing for MCC’s Public Documents

Good Grammar Makes for Good Writing: Remembering the Basics

Abbreviations/Acronyms

Abbreviations and acronyms are used to save space and to avoid distracting the reader. Acronyms that abbreviate three or more words are usually written without periods (exception is U.S.S.R.). Abbreviations should only be used if the organization or term appears two or more times in the text. Spell out the full term at its first mention, indicate its abbreviation in parenthesis and use the abbreviation from then on, with the exception of acronyms that would be familiar to most readers, such as MCC and USAID.

Example:

Ghana’s Millennium Development Authority (MiDA) is responsible for implementing the MCC compact. According to a MiDA spokesperson, the roads project in Ghana was completed on time and on budget. MiDA is updating beneficiaries of the outcomes.


Avoid using acronyms where possible. If you must use acronyms, do so sparingly.

Example:
WRONG:
In 2009, MCC partnered with the World Bank (WB) to fund a Water-to-Market Activity (WTM) through the Ministry of Energy and Water (MEW). The WTM built capacity in MEW while achieving the poverty reduction goals of MCC and the WB.
BETTER:
In 2009, MCC partnered with the World Bank to fund a Water-to-Market Activity through the Ministry of Energy and Water. The project built capacity in the ministry while achieving the poverty reduction goals of MCC and the World Bank.

Two-letter words (United Nations) should be spelled out, or if an acronym is preferred, use periods between the letters (U.N.). Try to avoid using two-letter acronyms in place of nouns. If the acronym spells an unrelated word, use periods between the letters but not spaces. For compound adjectives, hyphenate the acronym.

Example:
  • She has worked at UNESCO, WWF, the World Bank, OPEC, AfDB, and the IMF. She also spent three years at the City Agricultural Monitoring Project (CAMP).
  • He met with representatives from the World Bank and the IMF at the United Nations, where they discussed IMF- and U.N.-led initiatives and MCC-funded projects.

Bibliography/Endnotes

MCC occasionally promotes academic or white papers on development topics. These papers cite facts, figures and important statements. To properly cite material or data used from other sources, writers can consult the many available style guides, including the Associated Press Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style.


Capitalization

Do not capitalize seasons.

Example:
  • winter
  • spring
  • summer
  • fall

Capitalize specific regions, but not ordinal directions.

Example:

She worked in the Northern Zone of El Salvador, but enjoyed traveling south to the urban areas.


courtesy titles

Do not use.

Example:

Paul Applegarth was MCC's first CEO. Applegarth served in the position from 2003 to 2005.


Foreign Words

If possible, avoid using foreign words. While MCC partner countries use multiple languages, English is the official language for MCC public documents. Foreign words and abbreviations (versus, vs.; et cetera, etc.) that are accepted universally into the English language may be used without explanation. However, if a foreign word or abbreviation is not universally understood, place it in italics and provide an explanation.

Example:

Stoves emit a toxic brew of pollution in traditional ger homes, circular felt dwellings popular in Mongolia’s capital.


Consult the State Department’s website (www.state.gov) for the primary spelling of foreign place names; do not italicize foreign place names.

Example:

Ulaanbaatar is the capital of Mongolia.


For personal names, follow the individual’s preference for an English spelling; do not italicize foreign personal names.

Example:
  • Moummer al-Kadhafi,
  • Muammer Qadhafi,
  • Moammer Gadhafi

When spelling English-language titles of foreign organizations, follow the preference of the external organization.

Example:

World Food Programme, not World Food Program


names

Use the person's given and surname on first reference. Use only the surname on subsequent references.

Example:

Joe Smith benefits from MCC's agriculture program in Moldova. Because of new irrigation, Smith can grow an additional 10 hectares of wheat.


In cultures where only one name is traditionally used, provide a brief explanation on a subsequent reference as to why this is the case.

Example:

Abdulhaq has worked as a translator with the U.S. military in Afghanistan for three years. Abdulhaq, who has only one name like many Afghans, has worked with Army and Marine units.


In some cultures, the surname precedes the given name. On first references, follow that person's cultural protocol but use the surname on subsequent references. There is no need to provide an explanation.

Example:

In 2013, Park Geun-hye was elected president of South Korea. Park is the first woman to hold the office.


Numbers

When numbers appear in text, numbers below 10 should be spelled out. Use figures for 10 and above and for numbers that require more than two words to spell out. However, always spell out any numbers that begin a sentence or re-write the sentence to avoid starting with a numeral.

Example:
RIGHT:
Three components of the compact are expected to alleviate poverty for more than 150,000 Salvadorans.
WRONG:
560 farmers were trained by the MCC-funded project.
RIGHT:
The MCC-funded project trained 560 farmers.
WRONG:
12 beneficiaries doubled their incomes.
RIGHT:
Twelve beneficiaries doubled their incomes.

Do not use “a” as a replacement for “one”; be precise.

Example:
WRONG:
More than a million people will benefit from the compact.
RIGHT:
More than one million people will benefit from the compact.

All percentages should be numerals; the word “percent” must be written out.

Example:
  • More than 20 percent of the farmers increased their incomes.
  • More than 9 percent of farmers raised higher-value crops.

Spell out fractions less than one and use hyphens between the words.

Example:
  • two-thirds, four-fifths, one-half
  • Over two-thirds of the compact investment is obligated.

When only a month and a year are used, do not separate the year with a comma.

Example:

Burkina Faso signed its compact in July 2008.


When pluralizing a decade, do not use an apostrophe.

Example:
WRONG:
Zambia experienced hyperinflation during the 1990’s.
RIGHT:
Zambia experienced hyperinflation during the 1990s.

Very large numbers may be expressed in numerals followed by million or billion. The currency should not be noted unless it is something other than U.S. dollars. Convert to U.S. dollars where possible. Avoid using a currency symbol and stated currency in the same sentence.

Example:
WRONG:
MCC invests more than $7 billion dollars to reduce poverty.
RIGHT:
MCC invests more than $7 billion to reduce poverty.
ACCEPTABLE:
MCC investments were complemented by an AUD $2 million AusAID grant.
BETTER:
MCC investments were complemented by a $1.98 million AusAID grant.

Possessives

For plural nouns not ending in s, add ’s.

Example:

women’s rights


For plural nouns ending in s, add only an apostrophe.

Example:
  • girls’ schools
  • beneficiaries’ stories

For nouns plural in form, singular in meaning, add only an apostrophe.

Example:
  • measles’effects
  • United States’ generosity

For singular nouns not ending in s, add ’s.

Example:

compact’s goals


For singular common nouns ending in s, add ‘s unless the next word begins with s.

Example:
  • eyewitness’s account
  • eyewitness’ story

publication and policy titles

Italicize and capitalize the name of the publication or policy only if it is the official title.

Example:
RIGHT:
MCC released Report on the Criteria and Methodology for Determining the Eligibility of Candidate Countries for Millennium Challenge Account Assistance in Fiscal Year 2012.
RIGHT:
MCC released its annual country selection criteria and methodology report.
RIGHT:
MCC operates under its Gender Policy during implementation.
RIGHT:
MCC recently amended its environmental and social protection policy to formally adopt the International Finance Corporation Performance Standards on Environmental and Social Sustainability as part of continuing efforts to enhance the sustainability and effectiveness of MCC compacts and improve our standards for managing environmental and social risks.

Punctuation

Brackets, [ ]

Avoid brackets. Use parentheses instead or recast the sentence.


Colons, :

The most frequent use of a colon is at the end of a sentence to introduce and to separate lists, tabulations and text. Capitalize the first word after a colon only if it is a proper noun or the start of a complex sentence.

Example:

This is true: No amount of development assistance will end global poverty unless the engine of private sector, market-led growth is ignited as well.


The colon can be effective in giving emphasis.

Example:

MCC has one mission: global poverty reduction through growth.


Colons go outside quotation marks unless they are part of the quotation itself.


Commas, ,

Commas always go inside quotation marks.

Example:

She said, “The compensation package helped me start a new business,” and her son nodded.


Use commas to separate elements in a series, but do not put a comma before the conjunction in a simple series of words.

Example:

The flag is red, white and blue.


Use a comma before the concluding conjunction in a complex series of phrases.

Example:

MCC partner countries are strengthening policy performance, investing in their own development solutions, deepening capacity and transparency, and delivering the results their citizens demand.


Use a comma to introduce a complete one-sentence quotation within a paragraph.

Example:

MCC’s CEO said, “We are pursuing greater private sector engagement.”


Hyphens

Be consistent in the use of hyphens, but do not overuse them


Hyphens are joiners.


Use a hyphen to link words, compound adjectives or to mark the division of single words at the end of a line. Follow a hyphen with a space only in constructions such as pre- and post-manufacturing waste.


A hyphen is used when two or more words serve together as a single modifier before a noun. Yet, when the same compound adjectives follow the noun, no hyphen is used.

Example:
  • well-known NGO
  • that NGO is well known

Use hyphens to link all the words in the compound modifier except the adverb very and all adverbs that end in ly. However, a hyphen is not needed for common two-word terms, like private sector.

Example:
  • full-time commitment
  • first-quarter disbursements
  • private sector growth
  • easily remembered objectives
  • highly sophisticated irrigation equipment

Use hyphenation within a range.

Example:

The impact evaluation estimates 10- to 20-year benefits.


Use an en-dash to connect compound words, items of equal weight and page ranges. To create an en-dash in Microsoft Word, hold the control key and type the minus sign (the one on the numeric keypad to the right, not on the top of the keyboard). Do not use spaces on either side of an en-dash.

Example:
  • pages 46–52
  • Civil War–era
  • male–female

Use an em-dash for emphasis or to denote an abrupt change in thought. To create an em-dash in Microsoft Word, type two hyphens. Do not use spaces on either side of an em-dash.

Example:
  • This difficult component of the compact—an unprecedented undertaking—requires the majority of staff time and resources.
  • MCC’s core principles—policy performance, country ownership, results, transparency—set a new standard in aid effectiveness.

Question Marks, ?

Use a question mark after a direct question; do not use a question mark after indirect questions, use a period.

Example:
WRONG:
The MCA director repeatedly asked what caused the low disbursement rate?
RIGHT:
The MCA director repeatedly asked what caused the low disbursement rate.

A question mark is placed inside or outside quotation marks depending on the meaning.

Example:
  • Who wrote “Gone With the Wind”?
  • The staffer asked, “Who handles private sector engagement?”

Semicolons, ;

Semicolons are generally used to indicate a greater separation of thought and information than a comma can convey, but with less separation than a period implies. Semicolons are used to separate items in a series if they are long or contain commas.

Example:

Congressional Democrats labeled the Republican proposal with names like Ducking, Dodging and Destroying; the Slash, Burn and Pander Act; and The Bill Which Tap Dances Around the Question of Revenue and Lifting the Debt Ceiling. 


Place semicolons outside quotation marks.

Example:

She said, “The compensation package helped me start a new business”; many of her neighbors started businesses as well.


Spacing

As per GPO, AP and Chicago style manuals, always use a single space after a period, exclamation mark and question mark at the end of a sentence in public documents.


Titles/Offices

Avoid abbreviating titles. Always spell out and capitalize titles when they precede proper names, but generally not when they follow proper names or appear alone.

Example:
WRONG:
She met with Sen. Richard G. Lugar.
RIGHT:
She met with Senator Richard G. Lugar.
  • The prime minister toured MCC projects in her country.
  • John Doe, the current president, plans to run again.

Do not capitalize former, -ex or -elect when used in a title.

Example:
  • She met with President-elect Obama.
  • She met with former President George W. Bush.

Grammar Pitfalls to Avoid: Answering Common MCC Writing Questions

How do you use a while/awhile?

Awhile means “for a time”; “for” is part of the meaning already. A while means “a period of time.”

Example:
  • The farmer rested awhile.
  • She sat under a tree for a while to assess her work.

How do you use affect/effect?

Typically, if you are referring to a thing (a noun), use effect. If you are referring to an action (a verb), use affect.

Example:
  • The rainy season had a negative effect on the construction schedule.
  • The rainy season negatively affected the construction schedule.

How do you use and/as well as?

Use “and” instead of “as well as” for simplicity and brevity.


How do you use and/or?

Reconfigure the sentence to avoid using and/or.

Example:
The Zambians plan to invest in tourism and/or irrigation.
BETTER:
The Zambians plan to invest in tourism, irrigation or both.

How do you handle colloquial words and casual phrases?

Avoid colloquialisms. Informal words or phrases are best suited for conversation, not MCC’s public documents.


How do you use ensure/assure/insure?

To “assure” a person of something is to make him or her confident of it. To “ensure” that something happens is to make certain that it does. To “insure” is to issue an insurance policy.

Example:
  • The Indonesian negotiators assured their MCC counterparts of their commitment to transparency.
  • The compact ensures a series of reforms as conditions for further funding.
  • The contractor insured his work to protect against possible liabilities. 

How do you use fewer/less?

“Fewer” refers to things that can be counted (fewer acres, fewer roads). “Less” usually refers to quantities of things that can’t be counted (less congestion, less uncertainty). 


How do you use his/hers/theirs?

“His” and “her” refer to singular, gender-specific subjects. “Theirs” always refers to a plural subject.


How do you use in order to?

Unless there’s some need for special emphasis, drop “in order to” and simply use “to.”


How do you use like/such as?

It’s a matter of taste; either is acceptable for MCC public documents. 


How do you use more than/over?

More than” refers to quantity. “Over” refers to a physical location.


How do you use not only/but also?

Treat the pair as flip sides of the same coin. The two sides must match and should be separated by a comma.

Example:

Post-compact results demonstrate not only whether key deliverables were met, but also whether activities affected beneficiaries’ incomes. 


How do you use since/because?

Don’t use “since” to mean “because”; use “because” to mean “because.” “Since” is typically used to indicate a time period. 

Example:
WRONG:
Since her home was in the area of the planned new road, she was compensated.
RIGHT:
Since the beginning of the compact, the road rehabilitation project experienced delays.

How do you handle subject/verb agreement for plural/singular words?

Subject and verb must agree. If the subject is singular, so is the verb. If the subject is plural, so is the verb. The key to making the subject and verb agree is to correctly identify the subject. Simplify the sentence in your mind to eliminate what is extraneous to pinpoint the subject.

Example:
  • MCA-Tanzania hires a gender specialist.
  • MCA-Tanzania and MCA-Ghana hire gender specialists.

When specific amounts are the subject of a sentence, use a singular verb.

Example:
  • Over $2 million is set aside for monitoring and evaluation in Mongolia.

When the subject of a sentence can be interpreted as either singular or plural, like couple, total, majority, number, any, all, or none, the verb to follow is singular or plural, depending on the meaning. 


Subjects that stand for a group of things—couple, total, staff, majority, and number—sometimes mean the group as a whole (singular) and sometimes mean the individual members of the group (plural). The use of “the” before the word (the total, the majority, the staff) is often a clue that it’s singular, so use a singular verb. When “a” comes before the word, and especially when “of” comes after, it’s probably plural, so use a plural verb. 


Criteria, data and agenda, though technically plural words, have evolved over time into singular nouns taking singular verbs. No plural form is necessary when using plain language. 

Example:
WRONG:
The data are promising.
RIGHT:
The data is promising.

Memorandum (memo) is a singular noun; the plural of memorandum is memoranda (preferred use) or memorandums.


How do you use superlatives?

Use superlatives (very, most, ever, etc.) sparingly. 


How do you use that/which?

“That” is a restrictive sentence element that limits, or restricts, the meaning of the word or words that it applies to. “Which” is generally a nonrestrictive sentence element that gives added information about the word or words it applies to, and can be omitted from the sentence without changing the essential meaning. Nonrestrictive elements are always set off with punctuation (most often commas or dashes).If you can drop the clause and not lose the point of the sentence, use “which.” If you can’t, use “that.” Place a “which” clause inside commas. Do not place a “that” clause inside commas. 

Example:
NONESSENTIAL TO THE POINT OF THE SENTENCE:
The Bowen Building, which was featured in a widely panned Owen Wilson film, serves as headquarters for the Millennium Challenge Corporation. [“which was featured in a widely panned Owen Wilson film” is not essential to the meaning of the sentence and can be omitted.]
ESSENTIAL TO THE POINT OF THE SENTENCE:
The building that serves as headquarters for the Millennium Challenge Corporation was featured in a widely panned Owen Wilson film. [“that serves as headquarters for the Millennium Challenge Corporation” is essential to the meaning of the sentence and cannot be omitted.]
RESTRICTIVE CLAUSE–THAT:
Farms that irrigate double their agricultural production. [“That irrigate” is essential to the meaning of the sentence and to qualifying what farms double their agricultural production.]
NONRESTRICTIVE CLAUSE–WHICH:
MCC-supported farming cooperatives, which invested in irrigation, are doubling their crop output. [“Which invested in irrigation” is not essential to the meaning of the sentence and deleting it does not alter what MCC-supported farming cooperatives are doing.]

How do you use that/who?

A person is a “who.” A thing, on the other hand, is a “that.”  

Example:
  • The farmer who learned new irrigation techniques increased her income.
  • The irrigation canals that serve the region require ongoing maintenance.

MCC Terms: Using our Unique Vocabulary Correctly

activity

Only capitalize when it is the official and complete activity title in a compact program.


administration

Do not capitalize when used to refer to a presidential administration.

Example:
  • MCC was created under the Bush administration.
  • The administration prioritized global development in its foreign affairs strategy.

Only capitalize when part of a formal title.

Example:

The Federal Aviation Administration governs airport guidelines.


ambassador

Do not capitalize unless accompanied by the name.


anti-corruption

Always hyphenate.


board of directors

Do not capitalize it unless used as part of the specific entity’s formal title. 

Example:
  • MCC’s Board of Directors meets Wednesday to select eligible countries. At its last meeting, the board voted to reinstate a suspended compact.
  • Every MCA is governed by a board of directors or a similar governing body.

capacity building

Do not hyphenate.


compact

Compact is capitalized when used as a proper noun (directly preceded by the country name) and officially referred to as the “Millennium Challenge Compact.” Otherwise, do not capitalize it, including when preceded by “MCC” or used as an adjective (compact implementation, compact funding, compact development).

Example:
  • The compact development process is often long and drawn-out, but development of the El Salvador Compact proved to be different.
  • The MCC compact with Ghana was signed in 2005.
  • Ghana’s Millennium Challenge Compact was signed in 2005.
  • The Ghana Compact focuses on infrastructure and agricultural capacity building.
  • MCC expects civil society consultation in the compact development process.

compact closeout

Use closeout, not close-out. Do not capitalize.


diaspora

Do not capitalize


farmers’ association

Use farmers’ association, not farmer association or farmers association. Do not capitalize.


federal

Always capitalize when referring to a governmental body or thing. Do not capitalize when referring to a political ideology.

Example:
  • Federal government;
  • Federal websites;
  • Federal Register;
  • federal form of government

G-8, G-20, G-77

Use hyphen. No need to spell out "Group of 8" on first or subsequent references.


governments

Use Government of [short-form country name] on first reference. Use country-specific adjective and “government” in lowercase on subsequent reference if preferred for style. Avoid using an acronym.

Example:

RIGHT:
    MCC and the Government of Jordan signed a five-year, $275 million compact.
RIGHT:
    MCC is partnering with the Jordanian government on rehabilitating the As-Samra Wastewater Treatment Plant.
WRONG:
    MCC and the Government of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan signed a five-year, $275 million compact.
WRONG:
    MCC is partnering with GOJ on rehabilitating the As-Samra Wastewater Treatment Plant.


indicator

Do not capitalize individual indicators or categories of indicators.

Example:
  • freedom of information indicator
  • ruling justly, investing in people, encouraging economic freedom

Internet

Always capitalize


intervention

Avoid usage, as this can be too technical for a public audience. Suggested alternatives include:

  • programs
  • work
  • investments
  • partnership
  • compact

lessons learned

Avoid this phrase. Simply using "lessons" is better, because a lesson is not a lesson if it is not learned.

Example:

MCC is using lessons learned from its impact evaluation to improve future farmer training programs.

BETTER:
MCC is using the lessons from its impact evaluation to improve future farmer training programs.

low income country

Do not capitalize; do not hyphenate. Abbreviate using LIC.


lower middle income country

Do not capitalize; do not hyphenate. Abbreviate using LMIC.


MCAs

Refers to the accountable entities in partner countries responsible for implementing MCC compacts. Spell out on first reference, except in blogs, and include a standard definition in all public documents. The standard definition explains that the MCA entity is “the local organization implementing the country’s MCC compact.”  Afterward, use “MCA-[Country name].”

Example:

Millennium Challenge Account-Indonesia is the local organization implementing the country’s MCC compact. MCA-Indonesia will introduce ecofriendly practices in rural villages.


Some MCC partner countries have been granted waivers to use other names to designate the entity implementing their MCC compact.

Example:
  • FOMILENIO (MCA-El Salvador)
  • Millennium Challenge Georgia Fund (MCA-Georgia)

MCC

Refer to MCC as “the Millennium Challenge Corporation” or “MCC,” not “the MCC.” Spell out on first reference, except in blogs.

Example:
RIGHT:
The Millennium Challenge Corporation seeks to reduce poverty through growth.
RIGHT:
MCC seeks to reduce poverty through growth.
WRONG:
The MCC seeks to reduce poverty through growth.

microfinance

Not micro-finance.


Millennium Challenge Account (MCA)

Millennium Challenge Account refers to the development assistance account created by the U.S. Congress and managed by MCC.


Millennium Challenge Act of 2003

Do not refer to the Millennium Challenge Act of 2003, MCC’s governing statute, as “MCA” or as “legislation.” Refer to the Millennium Challenge Act of 2003 as a formally enacted statute.

Example:

Millennium Challenge Act of 2003, as amended (if legal reference, add cite 22 USC 7706 et seq.)


NGO

Refers to nongovernmental organization. Spell it out on the first reference and then use NGO or NGOs. 

Example:

nongovernmental organization (NGO)


partner countries

Use partner countries, not country partners.


private sector

Do not capitalize either word or hyphenate when ysed as a compact modifier.

Example:

Private sector activity is the engine to economic growth.


project

Only capitalize when it is the official and complete project title in a compact program.

Example:

The Tanzania Compact's Energy Sector Project will improve electricity service and coverage through the addition of new power generation, transmission and distribution capacity, and much-needed reinforcement of the existing network.


public-private partnership

Hyphenate the compound modifier.


stakeholder

When possible, it is better to be more specific than use the catch-all phrase "stakeholder."

Example:
AVOID:
MCA-Indonesia consulted with stakeholders when forming its compact.
BETTER:
MCA-Indonesia consulted with government ministries, civil society and residents of potential beneficiary communities when designing its compact.

states

Spell out full name of the state when used with a city name. This is an exception to AP.

Example:
RIGHT:
MCC does not have a compact with New Orleans, Louisiana.
WRONG:
MCC does not have a compact with Alexandria, Va.

Threshold Program

Capitalize when referring to the overall MCC Threshold Program or a country's specific Threshold Program. On subsequent references, use of lowercase "program" is acceptable.

Example:
  • MCC’s Threshold Program assists countries with policy reforms.
  • Kenya’s Threshold Program began in 2005 and includes agricultural training.
  • The Honduras Threshold Program Agreement designed to bring good governance practices to Honduras.The three-year, $15.6 million program will focus on improving public financial management and create more effective and transparent public-private partnerships. 

toward

Use toward, not towards


U.S. Government

Always capitalize government when preceded by U.S.


United Nations

Always capitalize both words. Spell out United Nations when it is used as a noun. Use U.N. (always with periods) only as an adjective.

Example:

He visited the United Nations in New York to learn about U.N.-led programs.


United States

Always capitalize both words. Spell out United States when it is used as a noun. Use U.S. (always with periods) only as an adjective. Never begin a sentence with U.S. Never write America as a noun, but you may use American as an adjective.

Example:
WRONG:
The U.S. funded the compact.
RIGHT:
The United States funded the compact.
RIGHT:
The United States champions U.S.-led initiatives.
RIGHT:
United States-led initiatives champion economic growth.

upper middle income country

Do not capitalize; do not hyphenate. Abbreviate using UMIC.


USAID

Use U.S. Agency for International Development on first reference and USAID on subsequent references. Do not put USAID in parenthesis after first reference. Do not use United States Agency for International Development.


water-user association


website

Use website, not Web site, Web Site or web site. Only capitalize website when it is the first word in a sentence.


windup/wind up

Windup is an adjective and a noun. Wind up is a verb. Hyphenate neither.

Example:
  • MCC is ensuring an orderly windup of the Mali Compact.
  • MCC is winding up its operations in Mali.