Your Rules Aren’t My Style: Why Consistency Should Always Win

Posted December 19, 2013 by Amanda Shofner in Editing / 2 Comments

consistency

Get your rules out of my style

The only rule of style is consistency. If you want to use the Oxford comma, use it. If you hate the Oxford comma, don’t use it. Neither is wrong. Anyone who tells you otherwise is confusing style and rules.

Rules and style are not the same.

Rules involve having a RIGHT or WRONG answer, like “Should I put your or you’re here?” or “Is it there, their, or they’re?” or “Does the subject agree with the verb?”

Style isn’t so simple.

Bright red isn’t a flattering color on me, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad color or that no one should wear red ever. Style is a little like that—what works for some won’t work for others. (But you can bet I rock a darker red. And there’s nothing wrong with that.)

So I like the Oxford comma. It flatters my writing. But will it work for you? I don’t know. That’s a choice that only YOU can make. And once you make it, stick with it.

Because inconsistency, just like glaring your/you’re mistakes, will send people the message this person has no idea what they’re doing or this person doesn’t really care if they make mistakes and maybe it’s wise to go spend your time and money somewhere else.

So if you do know what you’re doing and you do care about avoiding mistakes, be consistent.

And just let me be clear:

If you’re not paying attention to how you use Oxford commas or em-dashes or contractions or when you break your paragraphs, you ARE being inconsistent

It’s easy to get lost in the words and content creation. We forget we preferred the hyphenated “online-conquering plans” to the non-hyphenated version. We forget to always capitalize Bitchin’ because it’s an official title in our story.

(Note to self: write a story where “Bitchin'” is an official title.)

“Okay, Amanda. We get it. We need consistency. BUT HOW?” you ask.

First, you need to drop the idea that your style is a style everyone—and I mean everyone, and their mother and dog—should be using. That your style is the only right style. It’s not.

Know why your style is your style

I write conversationally to make a connection with my blog readers. Does that make “conversational writing” the only right style? No. Does that mean it’s the only style I’ll ever use? NO. You’re not stuck in a style. You can change. I certainly have. But make a decision. And once you decide what your style is, map it out.

How many lines should my paragraphs be? Do I use Oxford commas? Do I leave spaces around my em-dashes or not? How often do I use contractions? Should I drop “whom” where appropriate? Can I start a sentence with a conjunction? Do I use one space or two between sentences?

My answers: one to four, yes, not, as often as possible, yes, absolutely, one.

But that doesn’t mean those are YOUR answers. But your answers will make you a more consistent writer—if not in your first draft, then in your editing passes because you’ll know exactly what to look for.

Consistency builds trust between you and your reader.

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2 responses to “Your Rules Aren’t My Style: Why Consistency Should Always Win

  1. Thanks for getting on this soapbox. This is one of the most frustrating things to explain to people. “But two spaces between sentences is always the way we did things in my business classes. You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Aaaargh! So, so irritating. I mean, yeah, two spaces between sentences makes me want to violently smash something, but I know it’s not an actual rule. It’s a style thing. The same way certain fashion trends set me on edge (I’m looking at you, leggings as pants).

    I’m glad you pointed out that consistency is so important. It’s something many bloggers don’t seem to pay attention to, which is a huge red flag for me as a reader. Not everyone notices those nitty-gritty details, but for those of us who do, it just makes it look like you’re not interested in writing a great blog.

    • I’ve gone so far as to equate two spaces between sentences with mullets. Mullets are a style. But not a style anyone recommends or rocks anymore. Mullets belong in the 80s… ahem. (Not a fan of leggings as pants, either.)

      Consistency may be one of the most undervalued parts of writing or editing. It’s something I work on a lot when I edit. They’re often little details, but details can make it or break it.

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