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There’s a lot of talk and writing online about the New Zealand government’s super city plan for Auckland.

The correct style for super city is two lower case words. The term is not a name, at least not yet. It is a description. Capitals are only used for proper names, so there shouldn’t be any confusion or question over the term.

Nor is it one word. Over the past twenty years or so there’s been something of a fashion to run words together and separate the component words with a capital letter. If a company or organisation wishes to do that with its name, or the name of a product, it has every right to do so. But there’s no grammatical or logical reason to make a single word out of super city. Would you write Auckland is a BigCity? Of course not.

Fairfax’s Stuff.co.nz web site is confused about this. At the time of writing the newspaper company’s site has an Auckland Super City page which offers every permutation: one word, two words, upper case lower case. The New Zealand Herald is just as confused.  Try searching for “supercity” on the site. In fact it adds a previously unseen variation: Supercity, all one word with a single capital.

For clarification and background you may like to read my previous article about capital letters.

You don’t always need to write flawless English.

Some grammar rules are optional. Others make you look dumb.

Poor grammar undermines your message. Readers will question your intelligence and professionalism. Clumsy English can stick around for a long time warning the world not to take you seriously.

Apostrophes are a danger zone for inexperienced writers. If you are not a confident writer, alarm bells should ring every time you hit the apostrophe key.

Five apostrophe errors to watch for:

1. The greengrocers’ apostrophe gets its name because handwritten shop signs often use apostrophes incorrectly. It’s unfair to single out greengrocers — the mistake is everywhere.

A greengrocers’ apostrophe happens when a writer turns a word into a plural with an apostrophe s instead of the correct plural ending.

For example: Macintoshes and PCs not Macintosh’s and PC’s.

2. It’s when you mean its.

Its is a possessive pronoun — like his or her. It’s is a compact way of writing “it is” or “it has”.

If this bothers you, make a point of writing it is out in full and never writing it’s. Alternatively try speaking the sentence and checking whether replacing its with “it is” makes sense.

And while we are on the subject, there is no such word as its’.

3. Confusing your with you’re. Your is another possessive pronoun. To check think of: his computer, her computer, its computer, your computer.

You’re is a contraction of “you are”, as in “you’re reading a column on basic grammatical errors”.

4. Muddling they’re, their and there. Another common apostrophe problem comes with “they’re” which is a shortened version of “they are”. Their is the possessive plural pronoun. As in; his computer, its computer, your computer, their computer. There is a place. It is the opposite of here. Their and there are particularly easy words to confuse when typing on a keyboard.

5. When to use who’s and whose. Another case of a possessive pronoun that doesn’t have an apostrophe being confused with a verb contraction. Think of: whose computer is that? Who’s using it?

Short sentences are usually best. But not always and not all the time.

Newspapers teach journalists to write a single thought in a sentence. That way the meaning is clearer.

The Economist Style Guide makes a joke of this in its guide to punctuation:

Full stops. Use plenty. They keep sentences short. This helps the reader.

Much as I love short sentences, too many in a row makes writing boring and hard to read. They can also be uneconomical.

As Harold Evans points out in Newsman’s English:

Often it is wasteful to introduce a subject and predicate for each idea. The subordinate clause in a complex sentence can state relations more precisely and more economically than can a string of simple sentences or compound sentences joined by and, but, so, etc.

There’s another reason to use complex sentences in your writing. They add rhythm.

Use too many short sentences and your copy will have a staccato flow annoying and distracting readers. Use too many long sentences and your writing will lack pace. You may lull your readers to sleep.

Most writing is not poetry. Yet the best poets master rhythm. It makes words easier to listen to, easier to read.

A similar logic applies to paragraphs. View them as bundles of closely related thoughts.

There’s no hard and fast rule about the best length of paragraphs. It’s a good idea to minimise the number of one sentence paragraphs you write. As with sentences, vary the pace. Too many consecutive short paragraphs are annoying. Too many long ones are hard work for the reader. Both approaches are difficult to read.

Above all else use paragraphs to make your writing easier to read.

Short, snappy writing works best online.

First, people are less ready to read long pieces online than short articles.

Second, people read online material about 25 percent slower than print. Jakob Nielsen explains why in In defence of print. Nielsen wrote his article in 1996, but things haven’t changed.

Third,  people get distracted easily online. There are advertisements and links to other websites as well as bleeping notification of incoming emails, tweets and instant messages.

If you write a brief article, there is more chance a reader will get to the end before skipping off elsewhere.

Fourth, skilled writers aim for brevity because good, vigorous English is concise.

A writer’s goal is to get messages to readers as swiftly and as accurately as possible.

Get on. Say what you need to say. Get off.

Leave the fancy, flowery stuff to poets and fiction writers.

The recession has seen Immigration New Zealand cut 44 occupations from its skill shortage list. The new Essential Skills in Demand list now features just 87 occupations. People in listed occupations can be fast-tracked through the migration process.

Many of the occupations taken off the skill shortage list are trades rather than positions filled by knowledge workers. On the other hand those remaining are mainly professional and knowledge-based roles.

Jobs no longer on New Zealand’s skills shortage list include:

  • Baker.
  • Bicycle mechanic.
  • Bricklayer.
  • Butcher.
  • Carpenter.
  • Dental assistant.
  • Motor mechanic.
  • Plasterer.
  • Scaffolder.
  • Screen printer.
  • Sommelier.

New Zealand’s Essential Skills in Demand Lists.