Plenty of Punctuation Pointers
It’s been a while since I provided a primer on punctuation. Since I’m seeing a lot of punctuation mistakes as I edit clients’ work, I figure it’s time for a refresh.
The value of punctuation can’t be understated, as it aids readers in getting through your copy. When it’s absent, or even worse — incorrect — it can drive readers crazy and even hinder their ability to understand what you’re trying to say.
Periods and parentheses. If you’re going to use parentheses, make sure the punctuation around them is correct. The only time a period should be inside parentheses is if what’s contained within is a complete sentence.
Cubbie and I will celebrate “gotcha day” soon. (Our anniversary is May 28.)
On “gotcha day” (our May 28 anniversary), Cubbie and I will celebrate at a dog-friendly restaurant.
Single quote marks. These have only one proper use — in copy that’s already contained within double quote marks.
“As I get set to mark a very sad anniversary on May 19 — 16 years since my dad passed away — I can still hear his voice in my head saying, ‘you might as well get used to it; life isn’t fair.’ He was so right, as it was terribly unfair that he was taken from us too soon.”
Double quotes and punctuation. Periods and commas are always inside double quote marks.
“Those of us who live in Southern California are quite spoiled with respect to weather,” she said, “because a substandard day in a place like San Diego would often be celebrated in other parts of the U.S.”
Commas. If you’re not sure where these belong, read your copy aloud to see where you naturally pause. Not having commas in the right place makes reading tougher. I think it’s better to err on the side of using commas; more pauses are worse than none at all.
People often get tripped up when referring to dates, especially when they fail to take into consideration that when copy will be read is an unknown. Thus, instead of writing, The event happened last Saturday, write The event happened on April 21. That makes the copy timeless.
One of the things I look for as I edit is redundancy, such as is found in a phrase many people misuse: close proximity. (The definition of proximity is nearness or closeness.) How about aggregated together? This is another redundancy, since the definition of aggregated is form into a class or cluster — so together is unnecessary.
PC or Mac?
I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked if I use a PC or a Mac. I honestly never gave the question a second thought — always answering Mac — until a friend who works in technology pointed out since PC stands for personal computer, a Mac is a PC.
This is an excellent example of how we can actually be trained to use words in a different way than they are defined. In this case, I think advertising has a lot to do with most people not thinking of Apple computers as PCs, but in the strictest sense, they certainly are.