Use consistent styles
Here are some of the common mistakes and inconsistencies that I have to watch for when editing my own and other people’s writing.
Incorrect agreement with company names
In Australian and New Zealand English, company names take a singular verb, yet many of us use a plural verb, or switch between singular and plural. This is an easy mistake to make because although we are writing about an entity, we are often thinking about the people within the organisation.
Bonds is a well-known brand. (correct)
Bonds are a well-known brand. (incorrect)
Overuse of initial capitals
Many people were taught to capitalise everything that seemed ‘important’, but the modern trend is to use lower case apart from titles, defined terms or proper nouns. Even worse than overcapitalisation is inconsistent capitalisation – and this is common.
The company manages some investments for the Fund.
The managers gave a presentation to the fund.
It’s easy to be inconsistent in hyphen usage. You may hyphenate a word in one place, but treat it as one word elsewhere.
semicolon (my preference)
Inconsistent styles for numbers
Many style guides recommend using words for one to nine and numerals for 10+, yet many writers switch between words and numbers indiscriminately. Check for consistency and decide how you will deal with small and large numbers in the same sentence.
There were 5 applicants for one job and 12 for the other.
There were five applicants for one job and 12 for the other.
Inconsistent punctuation in lists
Check your lists when editing to make sure you are punctuating similarly structured lists the same way. Inconsistency problems often occur when points in a list all relate grammatically to an initial statement. You need to decide whether to capitalise the first word in each point and whether to use punctuation at the end of any of the points.
Read more about punctuation in lists.
Inconsistent wording in headings
With a long document, it is helpful to set a hierarchy of headings so you can check your structure by looking at ‘View: Document map’ in Microsoft Word.
If you repeat a heading in another section, make sure you use the same heading. When I am writing a proposal, I repeat my headings when giving prices, and am surprised how often I use slightly different wording.
Overuse and inconsistent use of acronyms and intialisms
We all use acronyms and abbreviations, but they can get out of control, especially in long documents when acronyms and full terms are often used interchangeably. The convention is to spell them out the first time and use the acronym from then on.
subject-matter expert (SME)…
I find when I am reading some board papers, I am constantly googling terms. This doesn’t always work because some are industry-specific.
If you have several people working on a document, it helps to set a style list first to reduce the amount of post-work editing needed.
Learn more about grammar with my online course: Grammar, Punctuation and Usage.
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