What is consistent copy? (And why yours should be)

Pencils consistency image

This week I’m thinking about copy consistency.

Well, to be more accurate, this week I’m thinking about copy consistency a bit more than usual – as a copywriter and editor it’s never far from my mind as it’s kind of important in this job.

Why am I thinking about it more this week? Because, as per what usually sparks me off, a particular project I’ve been working on has brought it into focus. The job in question? A set of email newsletters for an independent yoga studio – which isn’t really relevant, but gives you some context.

Now unlike big companies who typically police copy consistency (usually with a written style guide), most small, independent clients – like the aforementioned – don’t. I’m sure if you asked them why they don’t, they’d either say they haven’t the time or resources to worry about it or, more likely, they’re not really sure what it is.

Both of these responses are totally reasonable, but they’re missing a trick. Consistent copy can be extremely beneficial to business. Before I explain how, I’ll back up and start with some definitions.

Defining consistency (and style guides)

So what is consistent copy? Basically its copy which maintains the same rules of grammar, punctuation, style and tone throughout. A style guide is the next step and is essentially a document created with the sole purpose of setting out (and remembering) the rules.

Interestingly, not all rules have to be technically correct. In fact, for many aspects of consistency there is no correct way, only a preferred way or a way which best improves the copy clarity or visual appeal. The important thing is deciding what you will do and applying it, yes, you guessed it, consistently.

Let’s look at some examples of some typical copy consistency decisions to consider:

  • What font/font size/line spacing should we use?
  • Should headings and subheads by in Title Case or Sentence case?
  • How do we approach abbreviations? Do we apply it in the first instance or do we spell the full word or name out first and follow with the abbreviation in brackets e.g. ‘Search Engine Optimisation’ (SEO) then use it on its own thereafter?
  • Should we use en dashes (–) or em dashes (—)?
  • How should we write dates? 1 January 2017 or 1st January 17 or time? 1.00p.m. or 1:00pm or 1pm?
  • What should we italicise? Bold?
  • Should we use double quotes or single quotes for direct speech/emphasis?
  • How should we write numbers? Do we always use figures e.g. 1, 2, 3 or do we use words until 9 then figures from 10 onwards (often the preferred practice)?
  • Should we use a fun, quirky tone of voice or a professional, friendly one?

Now to non-wordy folk these minutiae of copy detail may seem rather pedantic – and in the whole scheme of life and the universe – they are. However, in the world of copywriting, editing and marketing, setting out these rules and sticking to them is important.

Inconsistent copy equals inconsistent business

Why are they important? Because inconsistent copy which applies one rule here and another one there demonstrates lack of care. Okay, it’s not as much of a no, no as blatant spelling and grammar errors, and perhaps, you’re wondering, would a reader even pick up on it these little discrepancies?

Not all will, no. But many will, whether consciously or subconsciously, and this is bad news in business because the state of your copy speaks volumes about the state of your company. If your copy is inconsistent, unreliable and unpredictable will your service or product be the same?

However, by taking a bit of time to think about and apply consistency, you can go a long way to demonstrating to potential customers, or whoever else is reading, that you are dependable and detail orientated – that you know what you’re doing. For a copywriter or editor, it says the same to clients, of course.

Don’t forget to pay attention

So next time you’re writing something for your business, be it a blog or web page, or even a job application for yourself, start to pay attention to these little details – to ensuring copy consistency – or have a copywriter or editor on hand to help you out.

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