Punctuate to guide
Using punctuation incorrectly can do more than merely make readers shake their heads; it can actually change what you mean to write. Here are some mistakes you may be making, ones I see all the time while I’m editing.
If you put the apostrophe in the wrong place, you can unwittingly make people think you’re referring to one rather than many.
- We are fiduciaries of our client’s money. This means you have one client.
- We are fiduciaries of our clients’ money. This means you have multiple clients.
Semicolons vs colons
Semicolons are most frequently used between two complete, related sentences, while colons most often introduce lists.
- My nephew spent spring break in the south of France; his photos are reminiscent of Southern California.
- My nephew has traveled all around Europe during his semester abroad: Germany, Spain, France, Czech Republic and Belgium so far.
Single quote marks
Single quote marks should only be used inside of copy enclosed by double quote marks.
- Wrong: He said ‘that works for me,’ so we were able to proceed.
- Right: He said “that works for me,” so we were able to proceed.
- Also Right: “When I asked for an answer, he said ‘that works for me,’ so we were able to proceed.”
Commas, periods and quote marks
Commas and periods should always be inside quote marks. See the sentences in the example above.
Remember, punctuation is like a roadmap to help readers easily understand what you’ve written. Take care to ensure you’re providing the correct “guideposts” throughout your copy.
Unless you’re mandated to use a specific writing style—such as AP or Chicago, the most common—there’s no reason you can’t pick and choose what you like to create your own hybrid style. Being consistent is most important; make sure anyone who writes for your organization is aware of your writing dos and don’ts. Creating a style guide is an excellent way to make sure everyone gets the message.
Lay or lie?
Misuse of the verbs lay and lie is common. Keeping the information below and the images above in mind may help you make the right choice.
Wrong: He was laying on the couch.
Right: He was lying on the couch.
Lay is a transitive verb that requires an object, i.e., you lay down a fork, or if you’re a chicken, you lay an egg.
Lie is an intransitive verb, so it doesn’t require an object, i.e., you lie on a beach or on your bed.