How to stop being consistently inconsistent

Perhaps one of the most difficult things to pick up on when re-reading and editing text is inconsistency.

When I’m proofreading work I often find myself stopping halfway through a document, having read, say, ‘co-ordination’, and an alarm bell will ring which suggests that it was spelt ‘coordination’ earlier on page nine.

This is a particular skill of being a professional proofreader – to pick up on inconsistencies throughout text that could be well over 100,000 words. But it’s not that all proofreaders must have great memories, in fact I’m sure most don’t.

Common culprits of inconsistency

It’s about latching onto words or numbers that can be spelt or displayed any number of ways and filing those to memory. Because it’s often the same culprits that crop up time and time again. Here are the main ones for me (that I can remember anyway!):

  • Times: 9am-5pm; 9.00am-5.00pm; 9 am – 5 pm; 09:00-17:00
  • Numbers: 31 or thirty-one; 1,000, 1000 or 1k
  • Page numbers: page seven; Page Seven; Page 7; p7; p.7
  • Hyphenation: cooperate or co-operate; underachieve or under-achieve
  • One word or two: under value or under-value
  • Years: 80s; 80’s; eighties
  • UK/US spelling: colour or color; analyse or analyze
  • Capital letters: Internet; internet
  • ‘E’ as in short for ‘electronic’: Email; email; E-Mail; e-mail; E Mail
  • Quotes: ‘house’; “house”
  • Brackets: (p.17); [p.17]; {p.17}
  • Word or symbol: and or &; percent or %
  • Money: £1.5million, £1.5 million or £1.5m; £5 or five pounds

And that’s just a few, I’m pretty sure there are more. You see, all of the above are pretty acceptable on their own however the key is to pick one style and stick to it throughout your writing. It’s easier said than done, I know, but if you familiarise yourself with the types of inconsistencies that regularly crop up you can perhaps make a note as you go on.

This is how I approach it. As I read work at least twice, on the first read I’ll highlight a few issues like the above that keep cropping up and then look out for them on the second read. Then, at the very end, assuming I’m proofreading an electronic document, I’ll do a ‘Find’ for say, ‘re-cycle’ and ‘recycle’ and make sure this is spelt the same throughout.

It’s this kind of meticulous approach that people often don’t have the time to go through, but I do, and that’s what clients pay me for my proofreading service!

Chris G


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