We edit a fair number of large documents, often put together by multiple people or teams. Each project has its idiosyncrasies, but a common problem among nearly all of them is a lack of consistency, stemming from different:
- Writing styles
- Page layout/structure
- Graphics formatting/style
- Heading and text styles
- Word choice/usage
- Mechanics (punctuation and, particularly, capitalization)
Why Inconsistency Costs More
With documents submitted for Clarity Proofreading at ProofreadNOW.com, we’ll correct inconsistencies related to the last two items. In final versions, we'll point out inconsistencies in page layout, heading/text styles and graphic elements. With our Style Copyediting service, we’ll aim for a consistent voice/tone and ensure a smooth flow.
But with both services, we don’t fix formatting or layout problems or fill gaps in content. When we return a job to a client with a large number of consistency concerns to correct, in addition to formatting and content issues, the client frequently will return the document to us for a second look. That means more work for us (which we love), but it costs the client double the time and money. That’s no good for anyone, because an important part of our business is keeping our clients happy.
Managing multiple contributors can be challenging, and some variation is expected. But many of these same issues can occur in larger documents written by just one or two people. It’s often the size of the document, rather than the number of contributors, that’s unwieldy.
With all this in mind, we’ve compiled a few tips to make your life easier — whether you’re trying to herd a bunch of willful house cats or corner one really cagey tiger.
In this week’s post, we present the wide-angle view you need to take at the beginning of the project — before the first sentence hits the page. Next week, we’ll zoom in on the tools you need to ensure your documents are consistent and project a professional image of your company.
Let’s Start with the Big Picture …
An Ohio family planning to vacation at Disney World over spring break likely wouldn’t hop in the car and head west, hoping to eventually reach Florida. Undertaking to produce a huge report or other document without a clear idea of what it should contain and how it will look is similarly unwise. Ask yourself these questions:
- Who is the audience?
- What is the purpose of the document? How will it be used?
- Why is the document necessary?
Determining the answers to these questions will help you figure out not only what to include but how to present it. Unfortunately, many people don’t think about the second part until after writing the content, which makes for a lot more work. It’s not unlike trying to furnish a house before seeing how it’s laid out.
Answering the questions above before writing the first word will help you decide whether to adopt a formal or more casual style of writing, the extent to which you should use industry-specific shorthand, and how to structure the document (e.g., long paragraphs with few graphical elements, short paragraphs with bullet points and callouts, heavy reliance on tables and charts, inclusion of supplementary material in text or appendixes).
Your answers also will help you organize the content, in whatever way works best for you (outline, idea mapping, etc.).
Once you understand what you’ll include and how it will be laid out, you’ll be able to pinpoint gaps in content. Let's say you've decided to organize the text in each of your sections under Findings and Recommendations headings and then include a summary of those in a table at the end of the section. If you know that ahead of time, you’ll be able to determine fairly quickly whether an element is missing if, say, the summary table includes findings that aren’t discussed in the text.
Having conceptualized the final product in this way, you’ll be ready to develop and implement some powerful tools to make that vision a reality. We’ll talk about those next week. Until then, git along little kitties …
Be sure to let us know in the comments below about problems you’ve encountered in dealing with long documents or multiple contributors.