Why Consistency Is More Important Than “Right” in Copywriting
As a copywriter, I get asked a lot of questions about the “right way” to do things in regards to punctuation, grammar and style. Here are a few examples:
- Which spelling should I use: grey or gray?
- Should I capitalize people’s job titles?
- Should I use a comma before “and” (known as the “Oxford comma”)?
My answer to these and many similar questions is generally the same: It’s not so much what you do as how you do it. Since that’s a little bit of cryptic Yoda talk, I’ll explain a little further.
Writing Is Very Rarely Black and White
There are some writing/language rules that give us a clear right and wrong. You wouldn’t, for example, ever put a question mark in the middle of the word “comp?uter”.
But there are a lot of other situations—like all the questions listed above—where there is no real right or wrong, there are just stylistic choices.
Establish Your Rules and Stick with Them
The key in these situations is not so much what choice you make, but that you commit to that choice. That means making the same choice in every situation from there on out. It’s about being consistent.
Why is consistency important?
Because it gives your readers a baseline. It establishes a norm they can rely on. If they see you write “gray” one place and “grey” another place that might pop out to them.
And the moment it does they are instantly removed from the information you’re transmitting and focused on the writing (and probably what they view as poor writing). That’s never a good thing.
My best advice when you’re faced with one of the questions above, or something similar that doesn’t have a clear solution:
- What’s your preference? What do you think is easier to read and understand? Go with your gut instinct.
- Search Google News to see how some top news sites (USA Today, New York Times, Washington Post, etc.) address the same issue.
Based on that information, make your choice and stick with it. If you’re in the right position, you may also want to develop a style guide so your company can be consistent across the board.