Tips for creating a consistent writing style

2nd July 2019 | Posted in Editing, Marketing communications

When you’ve got multiple contributors to a document, it can be tricky bringing together different writing styles into one coherent piece.

If you want just one style, which of your authors wins? And how do you explain your edits to the others who have ‘lost’? It’s their hard work that you’re altering. And people who take their writing seriously, and have taken time out from the day job to create these words, may well take your editing personally.

Here are some ideas to help you speak with one voice – diplomatically! Consistency is the key.

Us and them

You’ll often find that some contributors talk about ‘the business’ and ‘customer’ in the third person. Others will speak directly to the reader as ‘you’. Yet others will play the empathy card and talk about the challenges ‘we’ face.  Some mix it all up. Deciding on a single style for the whole document does wonders for continuity, and isn’t a difficult change to make.  I would always recommend speaking directly to the reader.

Eliding and gliding

You can achieve a much more conversational tone if you use the apostrophe well. For example, you can use ‘who’s’ and ‘let’s’ rather than ‘who is’ or ‘let us’. Interestingly, at least one of my clients eschews this approach at all times, even when talking to a native English-speaking audience. That’s surprisingly difficult to do without sounding stilted. The apostrophe approach is more relaxed and lets the conversation flow more easily, but neither is wrong.

US or UK

The differences between US and UK English are becoming smaller, but they’re still there. Which vocabulary do you want to use? And what about spelling? Is it a pavement or a sidewalk? A program of events or a programme? Do you –ise or –ize?

Bullet points

There are a surprising number of decisions to be made around bullet points:

  • Dashes, dots or something else?
  • Indented or flush to the left?
  • Initial cap on every point and a full stop at the end? Or lower case throughout and no points at the end of each line?
  • Complete sentences or single words/phrases (but preferably not a mix of both as that’s difficult to follow)

Cross headings

Also known as subheadings, cross headings can add significantly to the coherence and flow of a document. Decide on their weight and create a scheme for the whole document. Do the same with any captions. Wondering what your choices are? There’s font, size, use of capitals, bold/italic and more. I’d advise the avoidance of underlining though. It’s generally overkill.

Why ask a professional?

And here’s the sales pitch.

These tips are just a few of the ways that a seasoned editor can encourage a piece of marketing collateral or a more in-depth piece to speak with one voice, even when there are multiple authors.

Experience as a journal editor and proofreader as well as a copywriter has given me the opportunity to create a long list of techniques that work.

Those include:

  • Checking for correct and consistent use of language and grammar
  • Considering how sentences and paragraphs are constructed and offering suggestions around how they can become easier to read throughout the document
  • Making suggestions about the structure of the entire document to ensure you take your reader on the journey to your call to action.

Because they’re suggestions, and created with tracking within Word, it’s always up to you as the client to appreciate or decline the suggestions.

There is another good reason to ask an experienced professional. As with many business endeavours, it can be easier to persuade colleagues about change if the argument is set out by an external consultant.

And with the help of that consultant, you could even create guidelines for all your authors in the future that will bring consistency to your documents from the beginning.

 

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