Consistency: Pick one. Stick with it.February 9, 2012
- Consistency reduces confusion.
- Always use the official term where it exists.
- Don’t use terminology variations just because you think your document sounds repetitive – better to be repetitive and clear than to offer synonymous terms and confuse your readers!
Your readers will get confused if you aren’t consistent in the terminology you use in your documents. Does phrase A mean the same as phrase B? If the words are similar, but not quite the same, are they different things or the same thing? If your reader has to hesitate to figure it out, invariably that means that you’ve confused them. If the words mean the same thing, then you must use the same term for it throughout the document. And always use your organization’s official version of the term, if one exists.
Let me give you some examples of inconsistent words/phrases from some documents I’ve edited recently:
Example 1: ‘Tenets of Operation’ and ‘Tenets of Operational Excellence’ – same or different?
Example 2: The author used these multiple variations in just three pages: ‘workplace participation’, ‘workplace involvement’, ‘workplace consultation’, and ‘workplace engagement’. I wondered whether the author meant these were different things or just one thing. While these phrases *could* mean different things, in the context of what I read they seemed to refer to the same thing.
Example 3: Variations of these terms: ‘LNG Plant’, ‘Gas Treatment Plant’, ‘process plant’. If they are the same thing, then use the same (official) term throughout the document.
Example 4: ‘Construction Camp’ and ‘Construction Village’ – same or different? Again, use the official term, if it exists.
Example 5: Inconsistency is not just seen in the terms used, but also in how they are written: ‘iHAZID’ and ‘IHAZID’ and ‘HAZID’ – same or different? Should the first ‘i’ be capitalized or not? Is the ‘i’ needed?
Where no official term exists, pick one way to write the term and stick with that throughout the document.
Remember: Consistency reduces confusion.
- Five ways consistency matters (by Geoff Hart): http://www.intelligentediting.com/consistencymatters.aspx
[Link last checked February 2012; based on a Writing Tip I wrote for my work colleagues]