The importance of consistency in copy editing

Copyediting Copywriting Writing Tips

Editing is as much about consistency as about correctness.  Obviously there will be some forms of expression that fall outside the bounds of normal usage, such as “We is going to the restaurant” but it is rare to find or make such blatant mistakes. When editing a piece of material, sometimes you have to choose between two equally acceptable usages and stick to the same usage throughout the work.

Consistency is a problem for a number of reasons.  The English language offers a multitude of alternatives in spelling, hyphenation, capitalisation, punctuation and so on.  It is also changing rapidly by generating new compounds from within and borrowing new words from other languages.  This creates enormous scope for inconsistency in the way words and phrases are written.

In certain situations, it is important to retain consistency.  Here are the most important ones:-

  1. In quotations.  These should be used exactly as they are in the original.
  2. In hyphenating words that are sometimes used as nouns and sometimes as compound adjectives.  For example, you would use a hypen for the phrase “he sat on the dining-room carpet” but not for “he went into the dining room.”
  3. In creating certain compounds.  Some expressions in the English language appear as one word and some as two depending on the context the word is being used.   For example, “I walked to the nearby park” (nearby is used as an adjective) versus “the park is near by my house.” (near by is used as an adverb).
  4. In the capitalisation and italicisation of titles

It can be useful to write a style manual which states how words and phrases should be written and provides a guideline on how these rules should be followed.

Small business owners probably don’t have a “style manual” as such but they can create a similar document that can be a useful reference source for themselves and individuals involved in the business to refer to in order to minimise errors and inconsistencies.

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