A Foolish Consistency

Francisco Goya [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

HOBGOBLINS (of little minds?)

Consistency is fundamental to tech comm, right? Don’t call it a dongle in one sentence and a dingle in another. But last week I found myself asking the entire dev team to be inconsistent. And, well, I’m 93% sure that I was right.

The issue wasn’t about terms (dongle/dingle), but about a missing period at the end of a customer-facing sentence in the UI. An example:

Press the SPACE BAR to destroy Alderaan

Where’s the period? When I mentioned that it was missing, I received a very reasonable reply from Development: Many of the older messages do not have periods. So we wanted to be consistent.

Consistency is good. Slavery is bad.

Honestly, I felt very happy that the dev team was even thinking about consistency at all. And they have a point. If we have periods on some error messages and not on others, then we look sloppy.

And most companies don’t have the resources (or the inclination) to go back and add a period to every error message that exists. It’s just too much work for a fairly small gain.

But. Staying consistent to an incorrect standard is not the way to go. Consistency is not our master, it’s our tool. In this case, that tool wasn’t the best one in the box.

Here’s my take:

If the style guide says that sentences should have periods, then we start writing our sentences with periods for NEW material, and we hope that the old material will catch up. I’m hoping that when people update old messages, they’ll add periods.

For a while, we’ll be inconsistent, which bugs me, for sure. But I think it bugs me less than it would to tell writers and developers to do something that’s wrong (according to our style guide) merely to serve consistency.

So, am I right? Am I violating the principles of tech comm, or upholding them?

Image: Francisco Goya [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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2 Responses to “A Foolish Consistency”

  1. June 17, 2013 at 11:21 am #

    There’s now software you can add your house-style rules so that everyone follows the style guide. Have a look at StyleWriter at http://www.editorsoftware.com and see the demonstration on customizing the program.

  2. July 21, 2016 at 9:35 am #

    These advices are good and plain. If you want to write something pretty well, you have to know some particular rules to do that.

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