Consistency improves and polishes your writing. Some parts of writing are more prone to inconsistency than others. Below are some of the problem areas I see most often.
Note: My preferred style is the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS). Other common style guides include MLA, APA, AP. There are A LOT of style guides out there. I’ll usually defer to CMS, but be consistent with whatever style you prefer, even if it’s your own.
Spell your words correctly (and don’t trust spell check). If you ever have doubts about a spelling, look it up. My go-to dictionary standard is Merriam Webster. Sometimes a word will have multiple spellings. If that’s the case, pick one and use it throughout your piece. Some examples:
toward/towards (Typically, British style is with the “s” and American is without.)
through/thru (but please don’t use “thru”)
Just make sure the meaning is the same regardless of the spelling or you could end up with problems. A few examples I see often:
alter vs. altar
accept vs. except
Use contractions or don’t, but be consistent. Only mix them if you’re doing it for a reason—such as emphasizing a point. For example:
She’ll go to the party on Saturday.
She will go to the party on Saturday.
Don’t play with your food.
Do not play with your food.
If you have to abbreviate something, make sure you use the same abbreviation every time. For example, if you’re talking about the state of Michigan, don’t shorten it to MI in one paragraph and Mich. in another.
Punctuation and Formatting
Most style guides can help you with these. Here are a few areas that come up often:
Book, movie, and song titles are typically either put in quotes or italics. Different style guides have different rules. Pick one and stick to it. For example, CMS puts book and movie titles in italics and song titles in quotes.
The question of the serial (or Oxford) comma is always a good way to start a debate. Decide which side you’re on and stay there. I think NOT using a serial comma can change the meaning of your sentence, so I always use it. CMS uses a serial comma: Hannah took her books, notes, and planner to class. AP does not: Hannah took her books, notes and planner to class.
Dashes. Use the right ones, or at least use them consistently. CMS uses three different types:
Hyphens (-) are for combining words, such as: mother-in-law, full-time job, off-site.
En dashes (–) are used primarily with numbers, dates, and times, such as: July 14–22, 5:30–8:30 p.m., pages 10–15, Proverbs 3:5–6.
Em dashes (—) set off phrases, often in place of a semi-colon or parentheses, such as: “They went to the store—you know, the one by the church,” or “They read her favorite book—Anne of Green Gables—until she drifted off.”
Know which words need to be capitalized and which don’t. This is something to think about when using job titles, room names, college classes, departments, and pronouns referring to God.
Tone is the way your writing sounds. Is it academic? Conversational? Formal? Informal? This will often depend on your audience, but take it into account when you’re writing. Keep your tone the same throughout your piece.
Are you writing in the past, present, or future? Make sure all your verbs are consistent. Need help? Visit Purdue’s writing page.
Point of View
Are you writing in first, second, or third person?
First person—I, me, my
Second person—you, your
Third person—he/she, his/her, their
Are there areas where you struggle with consistency? Do you have any tips or tricks for being consistent? Please share.