Some Tips on Being Consistent in Your Writing

Some Tips on Being Consistent in Your Writing

I always rewrite the very beginning of a novel. I rewrite the beginning as I write the ending, so I may spend part of morning writing the ending, the last 100 pages approximately, and then part of the morning revising the beginning. So the style of the novel has a consistency. Joyce Carol Oates

One thing that copyeditors look for when editing a manuscript is consistency. Why? Consistency makes your book (or whatever you are writing) look pulled together–and as if you know what you are doing.

What do I mean by consistency?

I was copyediting a book a couple of weeks ago. In one sentence the writer used the Oxford (series) comma. In the very next sentence, which also contained a series, the author didn’t use the Oxford comma. Although I prefer using the Oxford comma, it is really the author’s choice, so I will just go with whatever the author uses for the first series I see. I will make the rest of the series the same: either comma or not. Yes, there is of course an exception: if a series is confusing, I will add or delete the Oxford comma regardless of how the other series are done. I really don’t understand why a writer would choose to use the comma in one sentence and not in the next. Maybe the author isn’t thinking of commas as much as I am! Here is an example:
I have so many things to do today. I need to go to the bank, pick up the kids from school, get to the library before it closes, and definitely get to the grocery store. We are completely out of bread, eggs, milk and several other necessities.

Here are three other important things (in my opinion) to keep consistent:


Some compound words are hyphenated. Others are written as two separate words. Yet others are run together as one word. Sometimes a word changes over time. Take the word web site. Or is it web-site? Or website? Well, we can probably agree that it is website. However, website is a relatively new word in our language. It often  happens that a new word begins as two separate words, and as it becomes more common, it becomes hyphenated, and then as it becomes everyday language, it is written as just one word. I see e-mail and email, e-book and ebook. Does it matter which way you write it? Then there are the compound modifiers: one-term senator, two-story building, etc. Most of the time you can’t find a compound modifier in a dictionary. And words like e-mail might be hyphenated in one dictionary and written as one word in another. What to do? What to do? Pick a way to write it, and stick with it. It is better to pick a way–even if it isn’t the preferred way — and stick to it than to keep changing from one way to another. Being inconsistent gives the appearance you really don’t know what you are doing. Consistency gives the appearance of a plan.


We all know the capitalization rules. And there are so many of them. And sometimes, there just is no real answer as to whether or not something should be initial capped or not. Or maybe you have some reason to capitalize something just because. Be consistent with the capitalization. Pick one way and stick to it for the same use of the same word. Inconsistent capitalization can be jolting to a careful reader.

Parallel construction.

What is that? It is more of a grammatical/writing quality issue that is a more organic type of consistency. It is actually “incorrect” to write without parallel construction. Parallel construction is the use of the same construction for similar elements in a sentence. Here is a very simple example of a sentence that is NOT parallel: We went to the pool, to the mall, and saw a movie. Parallel: We went to the pool, to the mall, and to the movies. A little more complex example of a sentence that is not parallel: My boss said, “You will be getting a promotion, receiving a sizable raise, and your responsibility will increase.” Here is how to write it in a parallel way: My boss said, “You will be getting a promotion, receiving a sizable raise, and assuming more responsibility.”
Consistency is one of those aspects of your writing that make it look “finished.”

Arlene Miller