The current culture of emails, WhatsApp, Facebook, internet and blogs has made us all busy and impatient readers as well as writers. We want quick bite-sized chunks of information that give us immediate results and gratification.
This often leads to compromising our commitment to quality in writing to the detriment of fundamental writing principles of the four Cs: i.e. being complete, correct, clear and, considerate. Does it matter in the age of social media and quickfire emails? Absolutely! Writing makes your intelligence tangible. You are, after all, what you write!
Here are nine tips to help make your business writing more consistent.
Consistency in business writing
There is another very important “C” we may overlook, and that is being consistent.
Failure to be consistent can have dire consequences, mainly causing our readers confusion and making us appear unprofessional. Your reader may misinterpret your intended meaning, or assume sloppiness in writing to reflect carelessness in your attitude to work.
There is another very important “C “we may overlook, and that is being consistent
Therefore, it is worth taking the time to ensure there is absolute consistency in every piece of your writing, from the initial proposal to the final report.
So, what does it mean to be more consistent in your business writing?
A writer’s consistency should relate to the entire process of writing
It means persevering to create and retain the same principles and guidelines, quality and standards, time after time, ignoring any distraction or temptation to do otherwise. This commitment should apply to any document, e.g.:
- Long business report
- Press release
A writer’s consistency should relate to the entire process of writing. Rather than short-term results, the focus needs to be on long-term goals.
Some guidelines for adhering to consistency
- Plan, organise, write, edit and review every piece of your writing
- Understand your audience and the purpose of each document
- Know your subject well
- Follow the ABC of good writing: your documents should be accurate, brief and clear
For specific documents, comply with your in-house style guide. If one doesn’t exist or there is no such requirement, choose a reputable style guide suited to your purpose. A good place to start is The Economist Style Guide. Following standards set by experts enables you to have consistency, both in your language and style.
The areas you should ensure your business writing is consistent are:
1. Grammar and usage
Always follow the rules of parallel writing when making a list, horizontal or bulleted; or in the use of active or passive voice.
2. Spelling and Vocabulary
Choose either British or American spelling, depending on your chosen style or comply with the company in-house style.
For spelling, do not write “colour”, “theatre”, “meter” and “program” in the same document, and be careful mixing “pavement “, “gasoline”, “flat” and “elevator”.
Do not vary how you capitalise titles, be they 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. Here, companies may have their own preferences.
Do not vary how you capitalise titles, be they for documents or people
Avoid using open punctuation in one document and closed in another; i.e. using commas after greeting and leave-taking in an email and not in another; whether you use single or double inverted commas, and an en or an em dash.
5. Abbreviations and acronyms
For example, how they are defined the first time, whether you use a full stop after an abbreviation like Mr. or not, and whether you spell out or shorten word like Professor to Prof.
Be consistent in spacing, types and sizes of fonts, paragraphing and margins.
7. Citations, references and footnotes
Different guide books favour different styles; don’t mix and match. Choose one style and stay with it.
8. Create macros or “scripts”
Macros on your computer automate repetitive work and clean up recurring problems in your writing. If you are new to macros, Jack Lyon’s book Macro Cookbook for Microsoft Word will help you learn and write your own macros.
9. Get help
Ask a professional editor to check. Failing that, you can always depend on a good style guide that not only provides rules for grammar, spelling, punctuation and formatting, but acts as an all-purpose reference book.
Often, apart from rules of grammar and spelling, there is no right or wrong style
Often, apart from rules of grammar and spelling, there is no right or wrong style. Even experts and guidebooks do not always agree. Therefore, the golden rule is, first of all, comply with the company’s internal style guide if one exists, and if not, establish your own and stick to it.
Inconsistency in writing not only causes incomprehension but also reflects on your professionalism. Your readers and clients will judge you by your writing.
Inconsistency in writing not only causes incomprehension but also reflects on your professionalism