When I first discovered Structured Writing’s consistency principle, I was surprised. That’s because I prided myself on my writing and editing skills, and often found myself recommending to others that they revise their writing by changing words that they’d used repetitively to other words.
So the idea that we should use consistent words and labels to present information didn’t gel with me.
Surely it was dull for a reader to read the same words over and over again? And anyway, weren’t we taught in English lessons at school to use a wide vocabulary? Well, yes, we were taught to use lots of different words when we wrote our English stories or essays because that was exactly the purpose of the activity — to help develop a wide vocabulary.
But when we’re writing for business, our purpose is very different and it’s nothing to do with showing off our how many synonyms we know. In business we’re writing to get a message across. And if we use lots of different words to refer to the same thing, our audience is likely to get confused.
For instance, is the “project team” the same as the “project group” — or a subset of it? Is an “employee appraisal” the same as a ”performance review”?
See what I mean? When we use different terms to refer to the same thing, at best it will slow our readers down. At worst, they’ll misunderstand the message. And, as writers, we don’t want either of those outcomes.
So, the moral of the story is:
- Identify the terms you’re going to use in your writing, and use them consistently, and
- If there’s no difference in meaning between two or more terms, choose only one — the one your audience is most familiar with.
You may feel that you’ve typed the same word a hundred times, but your readers will thank you for it.
Structured Writing helps business and technical writers develop effective, clear and consistent documents and reports using a consistent structure.