What is good writing?
What is good writing?

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What is good writing?

2.5.3 Consistency

A common problem with sentences is not making all the parts match up. What is wrong with this sentence of Philip's, for example?

So therefore woman began to long for the urban or city way of living, if even for a short period so that they could deploy the art of socializing…

The mistake is that ‘woman’ should be followed by ‘she’ not ‘they’. ‘Woman’ is singular, whereas ‘they’ are plural. (He should also put a comma after period’, and change ‘even’ to ‘only’.) Similarly, in her fourth paragraph Hansa refers to ‘a high ranking women’. You have to make up your mind whether you are talking about one thing or lots of them.

Another kind of matching up is making the items in a list the same kind of word. Instead of writing ‘sociability, amusement and companions’ Hansa should say ‘companionship’. The first two words are abstract nouns, so the third word in the list should also be an abstract noun. Also, some words take partners: ‘not only.. but also’, for example, and ‘either.. or’. When Hansa writes in her conclusion ‘women...were neither mainly attracted to the towns’ she should add ‘nor escaping from the countryside’.

Another common slip is to have tenses of verbs not matching. Look at this sentence of Philip's:

The women who lived a fairly comfortable style of life belonged to a class of society where the father or husband would be a land-owner.

‘Lived’ and ‘belonged’ are in the past tense. So Philip should use the past tense of the other verb in the sentence; ‘would have been’, rather than ‘would be’. (Incidentally, a ‘class of society’ is not a place so he shouldn't say ‘where’. He should have said ‘in which the father..’.)


The tense of a verb indicates the time the action takes place. For example, ‘I laugh’ is happening in the present. ‘I laughed’ is what happened in the past, and ‘I will laugh’ is set in the future. (There are of course other tenses too.) The main thing is to be consistent in using them. Decide whether you are discussing the past, present or future and then stay there, unless you have a good reason for making a change.

Some of these may seem small points. But I am not nit picking, nor being critical for the sake of it. Inconsistencies such as these get in the way. They slow your readers down and distract them from taking in the meaning of your sentences. Reading is hard enough, without having our attention diverted along the way.


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