Consistency vs. Flexibility

Consistency vs. Flexibility

Note: This article originally appeared in Copyediting newsletter, which explains the low word-to-humor ratio, and is reproduced with permission.

In The Gregg Reference Manual, William A. Sabin said this of applying one style to all circumstances: “It is the impoverished person who meets every situation with the same set of clothes.” Copyeditors are charged with enforcing consistency, but new editors have a tough time knowing when to be flexible.

Adopting a hybrid style is often the solution.

We can manipulate style to bring out the best in each type of project without abandoning house style. In theory, the ideal is to follow one style with broad application. When people ask me which style to use across different media, they’re hoping for one style for everything—websites, brochures, press releases, blog posts, and so on.

In reality, adopting a hybrid style is often the solution. One option is to use Chicago style for company materials, Chicago with AP-style punctuation for websites and e-books, and AP style for press releases.



Avoid forcing uniformity when the result will be awkward, distracting, or ineffective.

Factors that influence style departures go beyond assessment of words on a page. Copyeditors can be purely pragmatic and choose rules that are easier to learn or are more deadline friendly. Other reasons to deviate from established style include aesthetics, a desire to control an element’s prominence, a glaring overuse of a style rule in certain passages, and limitations that make the existing style unsustainable.

On an invitation, you might capitalize occupational titles where you would not in a press release. In a magazine ad, you might omit periods after calls to action where you would not in a magazine article. The intention is to avoid forcing uniformity when the result will be awkward, distracting, or ineffective in that particular situation.

As copyeditors, we have a wealth of options for controlling how ideas are presented and consumed. It’s more realistic to strive for consistency within one context, one article, one series. Be willing to change style when another is more appropriate for the effect you want.

Lowercasing the First Word of a Sentence

Lowercasing the First Word of a Sentence

Note: This article originally appeared in Copyediting newsletter, which explains the low word-to-humor ratio, and is reproduced with permission.

As a reader of Macworld, I am accustomed to reading sentences and headlines that start with iPhone or iPad—with the lowercase initial letter intact. Though some may consider this a defilement, capitalizing the first word of a sentence, in certain cases, is negotiable.

Most language guides recommend recasting the sentence so that brand and company names with a lowercase initial letter are tucked away, but this isn’t always practical. In real life, you have space limitations, touchy clients, grammar-doubting bosses, and expectations to “clean up” an unedited piece that has already been laid out and approved.



Awkward cases support the need for more give.

Thankfully, language guides usually provide an “in case you can’t reword” option. As expected, many default to capitalization, including The Associated Press Stylebook, The Gregg Reference Manual, and The Yahoo! Style Guide. However, according to Chicago, brand or company names spelled with a lowercase letter followed by a capital, like eBay or the i– prefixed trademarks by Apple, “need not” be capitalized.

For headline style, some guides that veer away from lowercase sentence beginnings support retaining a brand’s or company’s lowercase initial letters within a headline (e.g., Gregg, Yahoo! Style): Protect Your iCloud. For all-cap headlines, Chicago recommends overriding the lowercase letter, and Macworld capitalizes every letter but the lowercase letter (iOS CENTRAL).

Further complicating capitalization is the use of figures, which many of us have been trained to spell out (and capitalize) when starting a sentence. AP Stylebook has long made years an exception to this rule (1967 was the Summer of Love). But what about 3M? 7-Eleven? A generic abbreviation, like 3D?

Awkward cases support the need for more give. Otherwise, you may find yourself equally dismayed by sentences leading with IOS, K. d. lang, or Three-D.

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