10 tips to tackle copy consistency

Road 2You’ve set the rules for your business copy, now comes the tricky part: sticking to them. Whichever ones you choose a good ‘rule of rules’ is to apply them consistently so all your communications head in the right direction. After all, it is the small details that can give customers the wrong impression about a business.

This is a particular challenge in business communications where corporate language has its own quirks. Here are 10 areas where inconsistencies often creep in:

1. Initial capitals for job titles. Mainstream magazines and newspapers generally don’t like them but companies usually do. Try not to chop and change between styles and restrict capitals to job roles (Joe Smith, Sales Manager) rather than job descriptions (the meeting of sales managers). For people’s names try and avoid initials (Joe L Smith) and if you do include them, avoid full stops (ie, Joe L. Smith).

2. Avoid company jargon, even for internal publications. Corporate gobbledegook and a lack of plain English slow down the flow and can lose readers who may be unfamiliar with the terms.

3. Use double quote marks for speech (“It was a great meeting,” said Sales Manager Joe Smith or Joe Smith, Sales Manager, said: “It was a great meeting.”). If you have a quote within a quote, then use single marks for this (“The team thought the ideas were ‘fantastic’ for our business,” said Joe). If you break up a sentence with the name of the person, start the second part with lower case (“Our aim,” said Joe, “is to win at all costs.”). Punctuation goes inside the quote marks unless the quote covers only part of a sentence, for example: in the manager’s view the players “were really up for the game”.

4. A company is singular. For example: Widget & Bracket is launching a new product range that it hopes will boost sales. There is a tendency to use plural (Widget & Bracket are launching…) but it is a single corporate entity. If you insist on plural (a lot of businesses view themselves as ‘we’), then remember to use we and our rather than it and its.

5. When you use an abbreviation, write the term in full the first time it appears with the abbreviation in brackets and then use the abbreviation. However, some terms look better written in full, such as miles, kilometres, millions and billions. Some are so familiar they don’t need to be written in full (BBC, MI6). Don’t assume your readers will know all your corporate acronyms.

6. Write numbers one to nine and then use numerals for 10 onwards. But write the number in full if it appears at the start of a sentence (Fifteen teams entered the tournament) apart from years (2012 was a good year for the team). For clarity, avoid using k for 000 (eg, £1k, £200k).

7. If you use a list with bullet points, you only need a full stop at the end of the last one. The sentence introducing the bullet points should end with a colon.

8. For dates, check your company rules. We recommend 1 December 2012 rather than 1st December 2012 or December 1, 2012, which tend to make copy look cluttered.

9. Trade-marked names. You might be surprised at how many everyday business terms are someone’s intellectual property and should be written with a capital letter. These include Biro, Cashpoint, Filofax, Hoover, Jiffy bag, Photoshop, Portakabin, Post-it note, Sellotape, Tannoy, Wi-Fi and, depending on your work environment, Jacuzzi and Yo-Yo.

10. You only need a single space after a full stop before the next sentence. Double spacing is generally viewed as old-fashioned with its origins in printing convention, although many people say it was how they were taught to type.

And, finally, 11: Always try to be consistent. Better still, build up your own company style guide and share the knowledge with colleagues.

Click here to request your free copy of our handy style guide for business news, blogs and brochures.

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