The Case for Copy Consistency (and Hexagonal Grass)
Pardon the cliché, but old habits really do die hard. Whether it’s the same dish over and over at your favorite grub spot, the paths you take when mowing your lawn or the way you write website/web site/Website (take a good, long look at that first one) in content for Ohio State — some things feel right just because they're familiar. And that’s OK. (But it’s not ok. Or okay.)
It’s hard to imagine that many people don’t enjoy poring over style guides and grammar rules for the sheer thrill of it, but I accept that that’s the case. However, I believe most people — especially university marketers and communicators! — agree that having a consistent style is important. Consistency helps to unify our collective voice, our messaging, our brand. (Read more about it at We’ve Got (Editorial) Style.) But even if we’re all on the same page with that, we still run into those old habits. Or we forget. Or we didn’t know in the first place. These things add up to some very common errors spotted throughout our content, and that’s what we’re here to talk about.
Sometimes too much explanation is just that — too much. So rather than belabor the issue with verbiage (yes, I know this is already the third paragraph), my thought is to tackle the common copy “presentation” problem from a visual perspective. A “see it, got it” approach. Think flash cards. Or flash list, in our case. For instance, if you see:
you’re not being yelled at. But if you’re in the habit of writing “web site” or even “Website,” maybe seeing this BIG word showing the correct presentation for Ohio State editorial style will help you remember it the next time you use it in university content.
And then there’s that:
No cap when used alone. I attend The Ohio State University. I like the university’s website.
this, that, these and those
No comma before “and.” I attend The Ohio State University. I like the university’s website, research opportunities, food and professors.
No man, no woman, no person. Just a good ol’ chair. I attend The Ohio State University. I like the university’s website, research opportunities, food and professors. I even met a department chair last week.
No hyphen. I attend The Ohio State University. I like the university’s website, research opportunities, food and professors. I even met a department chair last week. She said I could email her with questions about my major!
So like, this isn’t as much about style as it is just old-fashioned grammar. If something is like something else, it’s indeed like it but not actually the thing you’re talking about. If we say, “Bob shot out of his chair like a bullet,” we know that Bob isn’t really a bullet, but he was acting like one. If we say, “Bob has an interest in several academic areas, like math, biology and accounting,” it means he’s really not interested in math, biology or accounting, but academic areas like those. But Bob may tell you, “Yes, those are actually the three areas I’m interested in.” And so: Bob attends The Ohio State University. He likes the university’s website, research opportunities, food and professors. He even met a department chair last week. She said he could email her with questions about his major! Bob has an interest in several academic areas, such as math, biology and accounting.
You get the picture. Our purpose here is to address some of the most commonly seen words/phrases that appear in university content but are often not consistent with editorial style. We all commit things to memory in our own ways — and maybe flash-list style is yours.
That said, consistency isn’t always necessary, or even fun. Try something new at your favorite restaurant and entertain your neighbors with hexagonal lawn mowing, but when it comes to your next piece of writing — remember a few big words that can make a big difference.