Writing Tips by Gary Speer

Tips for writers, musing about writing and life

Number one rule for dealing with issues related to writing style — consistency

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My wife, Shirley, is a professional proofreader with about 20-25 years experience in professional proofreading. I’m emphasizing “professional” here because I want you to appreciate her expertise. She spent about 15 years working as a proofreader for a major religious publishing house. She presently does about half-time work for them doing freelance proofreading. She has also done paid proofreading for a nationally recognized advertising agency and a few gigs working on the annual catalog for one of the nation’s largest sporting goods outlets.

I hope you’re impressed with her, because I am.

I asked her just now to tell me what, if anything, is the number one tip she has for writers, speaking from her viewpoint as a proofreader. I expected, of course, to hear something like, “Tell ’em to learn to spell.” Or perhaps, “Ask them if they have ever had anything resembling a class on grammar and punctuation.”

I was wrong. Her single word answer to me was: “Consistency.” She illustrated what she meant from a manuscript she is proofreading as she sits across the room from me right now. Throughout this manuscript, the writer has referred to a classroom teaching aid as “Map of Israel. Suddenly, with no reason and no warning, he has started using this: “map of Israel.” You see the difference of course: He suddenly quit bold-facing the title and quit uppercasing the word “map.”

It is unforgivable for writers to 1) not follow style guidelines given to them by editors when and if they have them, and, 2) to be inconsistent regarding style matters if they have no style guidelines. If you don’t know whether your editor wants numbers spelled out (one, two, three) or used as numerals (1, 2, 3), take a stab at what looks or “feels” best to you. Then stick with that choice throughout the copy you are writing.

Consistency. Make a choice and stick with it. Whether you are “right” or “wrong” will depend upon the style guide your particular editor or proofreader is using (which they should tell you). But you will be dearly loved by those editors and proofreaders if you are at least consistent, right or wrong.
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