Tips for writers: Writing reports part 2. How to achieve consistency of style

In part 1 of Writing reports I discussed the importance of creating a simple and appealing visual appearance using several techniques, and in part 2 I discuss consistency of style.

It is important to maintain a consistent style so as not to confuse or annoy the reader. By ‘style’ I mean the following factors:

Spelling

The pattern of spelling should be either British (UK) English or US English. However, if say you are writing in UK English it is only permissible to use US spellings in quoted material.

Also, be consistent in the use of -ise or -ize spellings, such as in recognise or recognize, and organise or organize. It is a mistake to assume that -ise spellings are used in UK English and -ize spellings are used only in US English. While US English uses -ize spellings (with a few exceptions for certain words such as advertise, improvise, and televise), UK English can use either style of spelling and some publishers have a preference – such as Oxford University Press favouring -ize spellings. If using UK English be consistent in your choice of spelling, using either the -ise or the -ize patterns, but not both.

Certain words can be spelt in different ways, such as adviser or advisor, focused or focussed, and judgement or judgment. Be sure to select the appropriate version and stick to it.

Punctuation

Whether you use UK or US English will determine which punctuation style you use. The main difference is in the use of the comma or full stop – generally, they will be placed outside of closing quotation marks in UK English for partial sentences quoted, and inside for US English. There are other differences that can be checked using New Hart’s Rules for UK English and The Chicago Manual of Style for US English.

Capitalization

Current writing style favours the use of minimum capital letters – overuse of capital or upper case letters can give text a cluttered appearance and make it more difficult to read. I have already covered this in a previous blog on overcapitalization. There might be exceptions to the trend for minimum capital letters – for instance, a company’s house style might call for initial capital letters for titles of personnel and special terms in a company’s annual report, such as:

  • Annual General Meeting
  • Board
  • Chairman (and if capitalized, should it be Chair or Chairperson to avoid sexist language?)
  • Company
  • Director
  • Non-Executive Director
  • Ordinary Shares
  • Preference Shares

Whatever is the preferred style its use should be consistent.

Numbers and dates

Be consistent in their use, such as:

  • How should dates be presented? 30 September 20XX, 30th September 20XX, 30 Sept 20XX, 30/09/20XX? There are several more possible versions.
  • Should you use full or contracted years in ranges, such as 2009–2010, 2009–10, or 2009/10?
  • Do you use words for numbers one to ten and numerals for numbers 11 upwards?
  • Should % or per cent be used?
  • Should p or pence be used?
  • Should it be million or mn or m, billion or bn or b?

In part 3 I will consider presentation of data.