Theses and dissertations (part 2): How to avoid inconsistency of style


In part 1 of this post, I suggested an easy method to avoid being inconsistent in the use of tense in your thesis or dissertation. This post considers a quick and easy way to avoid inconsistency of style. Examples of such an inconsistency could be applying italics to only some instances of the same word or phrase, capitalising some terms but not all of the same ones, or starting off using double quotation marks but later in the text using single ones.

What a proofreader can do about inconsistency

When I’m proofreading for students, it’s my job to check and correct errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation and to check that a style that’s mostly consistently used throughout is checked and corrected. It’s not the job of a proofreader, though, to decide on certain style points and then implement them from scratch. I can of course point out what the inconsistencies are and give you information and advice to help you decide what to do. But this still means that if you haven’t decided on a style and tried to stick to it, the work on consistency will mostly need to be done by you at a later date. However, to save yourself time at this later stage, there are some decisions you could make when you start writing.

How to save yourself time

Before you start writing your thesis or dissertation, think about the sorts of inconsistency that you might easily introduce and start a list about the styles you’ll use. It might look something like this:

  • double quotation marks for authors’ quotes
  • single quotation marks for particular terms/labels
  • italics for unfamiliar foreign words but not for words like per se and faux pas that have become embedded in English and will be understood by all readers
  • capitalise Chapter 3, Figure 1, Table 1 and so on
  • lists – bullet points not numbered points; no punctuation after each item apart from the final one (full stop)
  • numbers – words for zero to nine, figures after that unless round hundreds or thousands
  • displayed quotes – no quotation marks. Source to appear in brackets after the full stop at the end of the quote
  • abbreviations and full names for them – initial lower case letters for the full names unless there is a special reason not to have these (so, for example, ‘FWST (foolproof way to save time)’.

There are lots of other style points you could add as you are writing. You can then refer to and continue adding to the list periodically. You’ll save a lot of time by doing this and will feel the benefit nearer to the date of submission, when you might be struggling to fit in all the work you need to do.

I know that making a list doesn’t appeal to everyone as a way of working, but I’m sure that for this particular purpose it will work really well.