Want to know the simplest way to look more professional in your writing? Ultimately, my friends, it’s all about style.
I’m not talking here about grace or glamour, nor the seemingly effortless ease with which chic beings glide among us. My kind of style is more editorial. It involves a nifty little list called a style sheet. This records your preferred version of words that can be written in different ways.
It notes, for instance, whether you’re searching for more color or colour in your life. It advises you what to do with words like alphabetise, contextualise and extemporise that can end in either –ise or –ize. It reveals when to wield a hyphen, how to format numbers and dates, and whether single or double quotation marks apply. It even indicates if the government or Government has your best interests at heart. (Personally, I have my doubts about that.)
It may seem that choosing and methodically using a single version of a word is a little bit petty. It’s the sort of thing that may not even be noticed. Which, actually, is kind of the point.
When you are consistent with your usage, you spare your readers from trivial distractions. They may not realise why their minds flinch from an unsteadily worded message. But on some level those capricious capital letters and erratic spellings still niggle. They give off a whiff that something’s not quite right, and that’s mostly because it’s not.
It’s not accurate. Not considered. Not professional and it is definitely not the look you want in your writing.
The easiest way to avoid this is to use a style sheet. I’ve created a simple one for you. Just note down next to the appropriate letter which version of a word you prefer, remembering that it’s best to stick with a single style of spelling. Elect either –ize and –or word endings, which are typical in American writing, or opt for a more British flavour with –ise and –our. Both varieties are equally acceptable. If in doubt, select a suitable dictionary to use as a reference.
These are all small choices but they do make a difference – if only a subtle one. Then again, it’s often the subtle differences that can be the most meaningful. In my view, it is worthwhile taking the care and making the effort to write consciously and consistently.
After all, that’s what professionals do.
What tools or techniques do you use to ensure your writing looks shiny and bright? What do you struggle with when trying to give a professional impression with your words?