The big C
Consistency is one of the most important principles in business and technical writing. Not just consistency of output but consistency of style, structure and format.
In business writing, consistency is important because it helps engage your audience and enhance impact. For technical writing, consistency is essential for clarity and making sure your readers can find information quickly and easily.
Inconsistency poses a few risks, but the most dangerous one is that it can distract your reader. Even something as seemingly inconsequential as a rogue comma, a misplaced capital letter or an annoying acronym can disrupt the flow of your text.
Different styles in different communications can also diminish your professional reputation. Once you have a style, it’s important to stick with it, so if you use one punctuation approach, or formatting style, or spelling early in any piece of writing, it’s imperative to stick with it throughout.
Creating consistency is not an arduous task. If you plan, organise, write, edit and review every piece of your writing it soon becomes second nature.
Before starting to write, ensure you know your audience and the purpose of each document, and make certain you have done your research properly. Then stick to the ABC of good writing – accuracy, brevity and clarity.
Then it’s a matter of following some simple guidelines.
Brush up on basic grammar and know when and where to use apostrophes. Correct grammar will give your audience more confidence in the person (or the company) communicating with them.
2. SPELLING AND VOCABULARY
Choose either British or American spelling, depending on your chosen style or comply with the company in-house style.
Don’t vary how you capitalise titles, whether for documents or people. Also check if you have capitalised the title in one document and underlined or italicised it in another. Decide when and how you capitalise titles for people – is it just when used as titles or both for titles and descriptions?
Avoid using open punctuation in one document and closed in another. For example, decide if you use commas after greeting in an email or whether you use single or double inverted commas and then stick to it.
Is the document written in a consistent voice? Do you address the reader as “you” or use the third person? Are verbs in the present, past tense? Or both? Consistency in voice lets the reader know that you’re thinking about what you’re saying and that you care about who you are saying it to.
Some writers prefer a formal tone; others, something more casual. Regardless of your choice, you need to be consistent.
Remember, inconsistency in writing can not only affect the way in which the message you are trying to impart is understood and comprehended but also reflects on your professionalism. Your readers and clients will judge you by your writing.
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