Proofreading for Consistency

Proofreading — There’s More Than Meets the Eye

Proofreading involves much more than checking and correcting grammar, spelling and punctuation. Creating consistency within one document or several is an important part of proofreading. Let’s look at how documents might lack consistency and what we can do overcome this issue.

Proofreading for consistency. Shows bright yellow text on a road "Be Consistent".Proofreading spelling and word usage

Correcting for consistency when proofreading can be especially important when several writers have contributed to a document.  For example, one writer might write programme while another might write program. Both are acceptable in Australia, but you need to choose which spelling you will use throughout your documents and publications. Once you have decided, you can use the Find and Replace function in Word to make the term consistent throughout the document.

Acronyms are another thing that should be checked for consistency when proofreading. Do you use full stops in your acronyms or not (for example, I.T. or IT)? Most current style guides call for no punctuation in acronyms but you will want to choose your preferred style.

Proofreading dates and numbers

One writer might express the date as October 25, 2012 while another might write 25 October 2012. To create consistency across an organisation’s publications it’s necessary to communicate the approved style.

Another example is expressing spans of time (such as a financial year). Would you write 2011-2012 Annual Report or 2011-12 Annual Report?  Either option would be correct, but one needs to be selected and kept consistent throughout the publication.

Proofreading bulleted lists

If your documents and publications have bulleted lists, they need to be in a consistent style. If you don’t know the accepted style conventions for bulleted lists in Australia, read our post on Editing and Proofreading Bulleted Lists.

Proofreading headings

In a larger document or publication, headings help readers navigate and find what they need. When proofreading, ensure that heading styles are consistent. If most main headings are in 16pt Arial while some are in 14pt New Times Roman, it can confuse your readers when they are trying to find information in your documents.  One way to avoid this is to set up heading styles in a Word template.  But you will still want to check the headings when proofreading because the template styles might not have been followed.

These are just a few points to consider when proofreading for consistency.  Creating a style guide will help you achieve consistency in your documents and publications when proofreading, especially when different writers are contributing to them.

If you are not familiar with style guides and what they include, here’s an example of a writing_style_guide from a government department. An excellent resource for proofreading is the Style manual for authors, editors and printers, which is the official guide for government and many corporations in Australia.

Editing and Proofreading: Bulleted Lists


What’s the Recommended Format for Dot Point Series (also called bullet lists and bulleted lists)?


Writers often have questions about the correct way to structure bulleted lists (also called dot point series and bullet lists). This is an important editing and proofreading issue that comes up in many forms of business writing.


The following styles for bullet lists are recommended in the Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers. These styles are used and accepted by government departments and businesses throughout Australia. The Chicago Manual of Style, which is used in the United States, has different recommendations for structuring bulleted lists. If you’re writing for audiences or organisations outside Australia, you will want to research other conventions for bullet lists.


The first example shows how you structure a list where the points are complete sentences.


Example 1 – Bulleted Lists with Complete Sentences


The committee came to two important conclusions:

  • Officers from the department should investigate the feasibility of developing legislated guidelines for future investigations.
  • Research should be funded in the three priority areas.


You can see that both sentences are capitalised and have full stops (periods) at the ends.


When you have sentence fragments, as in the next example, you only punctuate the final point with a full stop. Since the points aren’t full sentences, they aren’t capitalised. Also, it’s no longer the common style in Australia to use semi-colons or commas at the end of each point.


Example 2 – Bulleted Lists with Sentence Fragments


The Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers gives the following example of how to punctuate bulleted lists when the bulleted points are sentence fragments.


Assistance is available in several forms:

  • monetary assistance
  • equipment or environmental modifications
  • advisory services.


When you have sentence fragments, make sure they are consistent. The following example from a training manual we edited shows inconsistent bullet points.


Example 3 – Bulleted Lists with Inconsistent Structure



Carry out the following tasks by completing the appropriate reporting form to:

  • describe what happened
  • describe your concern
  • reporting any action taken
  • suggestions for future action.


The first two points are correct because they flow from the lead-in phrase. The third and fourth points don’t match the structure. After editing, all points fit with the lead-in.


Carry out the following tasks by completing the appropriate reporting form to:

  • describe what happened
  • describe your concern
  • report any action taken
  • suggest future action.


When a sentence follows a sentence fragment in a list to explain a point, you don’t put a full stop at the end of that sentence.


Example 4 – Bulleted Lists with Explanatory Sentences


Assistance is available in several forms:

  • monetary assistance. Income support and specialist disability allowances fall into this category
  • equipment or environmental modifications
  • advisory services.


AlthoughIncome support and specialist disability allowances fall into this category’ is a complete sentence, you don’t use a full stop until the end of the list.


The Style manual for authors, editors and printers gives more information on structuring dot point series (also called bullet lists and bulleted lists). If you do a lot of editing and proofreading (and live in Australia), it’s a good idea to get this book.

US readers should refer to The Chicago Manual of Style for recommended styles for bulleted lists.


We welcome your comments and suggestions. We’re happy to answer your questions on copywriting, business writing, speech writing, editing and proofreading.