The Practical Guide: Writing with Consistency

We do a lot of peer editing of our work in my Creative Writing class, and it is appalling just how many of my classmates’ stories are written with poor grammar, sentence structure, or a complete lack of coherency, as far as being consistent goes.

As a proofreader for the university’s newspaper, one of my jobs is to look for consistency. There are many ways to spell the same word- these are usually recognized as the “Canadian” spelling or the “American” spelling- and although we prefer to use the Canadian spelling (because we are, after all, a Canadian university, and thus use Canadian Press Style), the main thing really is to stay consistent. Ideally we stay consistent throughout the entire newspaper, but sometimes changes in spelling slip through the cracks. What should not slip through the cracks is when the spelling varies from the Canadian to the American version within the same article (and I am happy to say that it is very rare that inconsistent spelling occurs in the newspaper by the time that I’m looking at it).

Inconsistency indicates a sloppy writer and a sloppier editor. I cringe when I see final drafts in my Creative Writing class that have a multitude of inconsistencies. My professor is most concerned with getting a “literary feel”, and doesn’t seem to be as worried about glaring editorial errors, but I believe that everyone’s writing could vastly improve if they simply understood the importance of, for example, not switching from the past to the present tense within the same paragraph. Those are lessons that should be drilled into our heads in elementary school, and they are lessons that should be repeatedly taught in junior high, high school, and university to ensure that we really understand them.

Regardless of whether it is fair or not, we cannot get very far in life if we are careless with consistency in our writing. Resumes and cover letters, academic theses, and even speeches and presentations are all highly dependent on good writing style. We receive letters from associations and boards of directors at the vet clinic that I work at, and sometimes their writing and sentence structure is so fragmented and poorly worded that it barely passes as readable. Being unable to understand someone because they cannot express themselves in a clear manner immediately brings down their ethos. Our respect for a person is diminished if they cannot convey their meaning. Poor grammar and an inconsistent writing style also suggests that the writer hasn’t put a lot of thought into their work, in which case the reader isn’t going to put much effort into trying to understand it or take it seriously.

When you write anything, be it a letter, resume, university paper, fictional story, or newspaper article, read it over to check for consistency. Is the tense the same all the way through? Is the structure orderly (for example, are the same kinds of bullets or indentations used throughout)? If there is more than one way to spell a word, have you changed the spelling partway through? Checking for these common mistakes could prevent your writing from being dismissively glanced at and shoved aside by the next person who reads it.

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