The Little Things That Matter in Writing


As an editor, I am used to correcting the typical writing errors that appear in most papers, such as those having to do with spelling, vocabulary usage, punctuation, tense, and grammar. However, in addition to those common errors, some writers make little ones which should be corrected before their documents are submitted for publication or review. Here are a few of them:

  1. Inconsistencies in terms of font and size: Some writers vary their use of font and text size in their papers, sometimes in the same paragraph. This often occurs when the writer has copied and pasted text from another source into his or her document. This error detracts from the appearance of the paper, and may cause difficulties in comprehension for the reader. It is very easy to correct this mistake. Once the paper has been completed, the writer need only choose “Select All” from the toolbar at the top of Microsoft Word, and then designate one style of font and one size. Of course, if there are titles, subtitles, headings, charts, graphs, etc., then choosing “Select All” would be a mistake. In that case, sections of text should be chosen and highlighted separately, and then standardized.
  2. Misaligned margins: Some documents suffer from inconsistent left-side margins or/and varying types of alignment. Some parts of a paper may be further or closer to the left-side margin than others, and some sections of text may be aligned-left, while others are aligned-right, or centered, or justified in terms of block text. The only instances in which there should be variations in terms of alignment should be when inserting long quotes or graphs or charts or tables or other additions to the regular text.
  3. Paragraph styles: Within a paper, all paragraphs should either be indented or block justified. Block justified paragraphs should be separated from each other by one space. In general, indented paragraphs shuld not be separated by spaces.
  4. Headings, subheadings, and titles: All headings, subheadings, titles, etc. should be consistent in terms of font, size, and the use of italics and boldface. That is not to say that all headings must be the same. Major headings or titles may be written differently from minor headings or titles, but all major headings should look alike and all minor headings should be consistently written.
  5. Numbering: If letters or numbers are used to designate sections in a paper, they should be consistent and in order. If the writer begins by using capital letters to designate sections, then he or she should continue with that, and not skip letters. The same is true in terms of lower case letters. This also applies to numbers. They should all be either Arabic or Roman. All letters or numbers should also be consistent in terms of the use of boldface and italics. Of course, there may be differences in terms of lettering or numbering when designating different types of information. For example, major headings might be set off with the use of capital letters in boldface, and individual facts listed below them may be designated by the use of lower case letters or Roman or Arabic numerals that are not in boldface. There also may be differences in size from one type of heading to another. It is important, however, that all sections of similar importance be designated with the same type of letter or number in the same size.
  6. Use of capitalization: Besides the normal use of capital letters at the beginnings of sentences and for proper nouns, they can be used to set off titles. If they are used for that purpose, then all similar paragraphs must be written in that way.

These fine points are important to the appearance of a paper, and consistency in terms of their use should be incorporated into all documents.