You want to write; you know all the benefits for your business in writing compelling content; you’ve even scheduled the time to do it. But putting pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard – is proving difficult.
Writer’s block? Or plain old punctuation panic? Don’t let the fear of an incorrectly placed semicolon prevent you from elevating your marketing to the next level.
It is entirely possible to write creatively without being a punctuation puritan, but as the purpose of good punctuation is to create clear copy, knowing the basics is critical to avoid weakening your message and losing customers to whom good grammar matters.
As Sue Shellenbarger, writing for the Wall Street Journal, says: “looseness with language can create bad impressions with clients, ruin marketing materials, and cause communications errors”.
Correct usage can also save lives…
So, with the help of Incredibble’s very own grammar guru, Lucy, this short blog will take you through the basics so that instead of being a pain in the proverbial, punctuation makes your writing flow, and your customers engage.
Anyone who has read ‘Eats, shoots and leaves’ by Lynn Truss knows all about the sentence-changing ability of a misplaced, or more often, missing comma. The most common punctuation mark, and therefore the most commonly misused. There are many, many rules surrounding comma usage. Even Lucy calls them ‘a tricky beast’. They should be thought of as short pauses, or a breathing space in a sentence. They should also, amongst other things, be used between items in a list.
Simple? Not simple. In lists beware of the Oxford comma. This academically named mark is the last comma in a series which comes before ‘and’ or ‘or’. Such as “I need a dark room, cold compress, and a glass of wine”. The good news is that they are a POINT OF STYLE. Which means you can take them, or leave them: in general, commercial copy/media writers don’t use them. One to score off the list.
And talking of style, what about the comma splice? The punctuation phenomenon where you use a comma instead of a full stop between two independent sentences. Such as “It’s nearly 6 pm, we won’t reach the shops before they close”. In the English language, its usage is considered as gauche in style terms as Trump wearing a mismatching suit. Just don’t. Use two separate sentences or a conjunction after the comma.
A semicolon is also used to create a pause in a sentence. Described in the Guardian Style Guide as “a very elegant compromise between a full stop (too much) and a comma (not enough).” Lucy is a lover of the semicolon when it is used correctly to narrow the gap between two closely linked sentences.
But I must say I have a great respect for the semi-colon; it’s a useful little chap.
― Abraham Lincoln
It has its detractors though, who deem it a bit academic or highbrow. So, use with caution, and know your audience. And definitely don’t use it when you should really be using a colon.
A colon can be used in many ways. It often gets substituted with the semicolon when it is inserted between two independent clauses or sentences. However, a colon is used where the second clause explains, illustrates, paraphrases or expands on the first.
It also introduces quotations and precedes a list or series of items.
It is NOT interchangeable with the semicolon.
I think Lucy is happy with that explanation: she has a big smile on her face.
Dashes and hyphens
If you check out your laptop keyboard, you will see no less than three horizontal markings, of varying lengths, with which you can liberally season your writing to give it added meaning. These are called the endash, emdash and hyphen.
The longest – and a personal favourite of mine – is the emdash. This can be used in place of a comma or parentheses to create a break in sentence structure and is often used for emphasis – it’s a versatile little fella.
An endash, on the other hand, is used to connect values or ranges. Hyphens are critical to the understanding of many sentences and are used to join words that are logically connected. Again, a useful device changing: “Beware of man-eating tiger” from a lifesaving warning to “Beware of man eating tiger” an exotic sounding menu item.
So, some of mine (and Lucy’s) favourite punctuation marks for you to consider and digest. The world of grammar and punctuation is a big one but so critical in making your writing standout for the right reasons – POP!
Don’t let fear of using them stand in the way of boosting your business’ profile.
To learn more about writing impactful content to promote your business sign up to ‘An introduction to business blogging’ where I’ve put together my best time-saving and article building techniques into one 60-minute, fun easy-to-follow course. I’ve even thrown in my favourite grammar tips and Power Word dictionary to help you on your way. Find out more here.