This is a new series of short blog posts, ‘An A-Z of ELT materials writing’. I’ll be writing about important aspects that we need to keep in mind when we create materials, whether for our own classes or to be used by others.
C is for … consistency
Consistency is important. I know this because I’ve learnt the hard way, by having editors point out a lack of consistency in manuscripts I’ve submitted. More recently, as I’ve been giving teachers and writers feedback on their materials, it’s something I find myself picking up on again and again. To some of you, it might seem petty and unimportant, but it’s the kind of thing a commissioning editor out looking for new writers would spot in a second.
Here are some places where we need to consider consistency:
If you write lots of materials, you are likely to use the same activities more than once, things like a matching exercise, a True or false, or a multiple choice for example. It’s a good idea to use the same wording for an instruction you use repeatedly. You could even build up a bank of instructions which you could cut and paste from. That way, you’ll be consistent without any effort.
Some words can be spelled in two ways, for example, when there is a US English spelling and a British spelling (theatre, theater). Choose either one but be consistent. Another good rule of thumb is to be consistent in your use of US or British English. This is increasingly difficult as these days we often see examples of one in texts from the other.
When it comes to font variations ‘less’ is definitely ‘more’. But if you do decide to use different fonts for different sections of text on a page, again, be consistent. This refers to the font(s) you choose to use in the first place, size and colour, and use of bold, italics and underline for highlighting text.
The same thing goes for things like bullet points in lists, numbering and lettering in instructions, etc. Choice is a good thing but when we make choices it’s important to remember what they are.
Most of the inconsistencies I’ve seen in terminology have been in Teacher Guides and one of the most common is in the word to describe the end-users of the material: Student, pupil, child, learner … all of these are fine, with some depending on age and context. But it is better to stick to one within a project. I tend to use ‘learner’ these days as it fits all contexts. But sometimes a publisher asks me to use a different word. That’s fine. If you are writing materials for a publisher, you have to follow their style guides and conventions.