It’s tempting to view punctuation as something you no longer need to worry about in the digital age. As a writer who prides herself on dotting her i’s and crossing her t’s, I am here to tell you that this is not only wrong — it represents a crime against understanding.
In her popular book on punctuation (surprisingly, not an oxymoron), Eats, Shoots & Leaves author Lynne Truss shows us how a few simple punctuation marks stand between us and true meaning:
A woman, without her man, is nothing.
A woman: without her, man is nothing.
We can debate over which statement holds the greater truth (well, you can try) but there is no denying the difference in meaning.
Not to put too fine a point on it: the attention you pay to punctuation in any piece of written communication – from emails to tweets – says a lot about the value you place on both form and content. Depending on the message you wish to convey, and on your audience, it can be of vital importance.
Here are 5 simple ways to improve your punctuation habits:
Commas have a way of proliferating; they can clutter up a sentence beyond comprehension in no time. On the other hand, the judicious use of the comma clarifies meaning and rather considerately provides the reader with breathing space. I am no fan of the Oxford comma but as a writer for hire, I recognize the need to adapt my style according to client and audience.
Nothing kills credibility quicker than too many exclamation points. On social media it’s a dead giveaway of fake reviews and naive minds. Use at your own risk in personal correspondence. In business, it may be best to avoid completely.
An editor recently told me: “Do not use the ellipsis.” Those three dots (that’s three, not four or more) are often used by sloppy writers unclear about where their thoughts are going or how to use a full stop (a period in North American English). The only legitimate case for the use of an ellipsis is to represent missing text, i.e. a quotation that you wish to shorten for space.
There are two uses for the apostrophe, neither of which is optional:
The trick with the latter is that the apostrophe is added at the end of a plural, and the word its’ to distinguish it from the contraction of it is (it’s).
A dash can add emphasis and be a quick stand in for other mandatory punctuation marks. Why not give them a try?
That’s all for now — gotta dash!
Have a question about punctuation? Ask me and I’ll be happy to respond: firstname.lastname@example.org