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The Write Stuff
May 2024 Volume 20 Issue 5

Punctuation matters

If you don’t think punctuation is important, consider the differences between these two sentences:

  • Let’s eat Grandma.
  • Let’s eat, Grandma.

Most of us would say only the second one is appropriate.

While improperly punctuating your business writing might not encourage cannibalistic behavior, it can alter the meaning of what you write and/or make it more difficult for readers to comprehend.

Periods
Most people know that periods end sentences. There are two instances where the last thing in a sentence won’t be the period:

  • Sharks fans are thrilled: “We finally got the first overall draft pick.” (Periods and commas always go inside quotation marks.)
  • The first round of the NHL playoffs delivered record TV ratings.1 (Footnotes always appear outside periods and commas.)

Commas
The three most common uses for commas involve introducers, interrupters and add-ons, as follows:

  • Since I was a little girl, I’ve been a fan of the Chicago Cubs.
  • Sports fandom, at its finest, doesn’t include jumping on bandwagons.
  • I do own some brown and gold clothing, which I wear to non-Cubs Padres games.

Hyphens and Dashes
Moving from smallest to largest are the hyphen, en dash and em dash.

  • Hyphens (-) should only be used to hyphenate words, i.e., check-in, know-how.
  • En dashes (–) are used to mark ranges, i.e., May 4–6, 12–15 years
  • Em dashes (—) mark a break in a sentence or separate extra information, i.e., my niece—who will soon turn 26—may move to Portugal, my nephew regularly travels to LA—because his girlfriend lives there

I know I’m just skimming the surface—if you have questions please reach out. Next month, I’ll focus on parentheses, exclamation points and question marks, and semicolons and colons.

One and done

Using lists denoted by bullet points, numbers or letters is a great way to present information. But you need at least two items to call something a list. It really doesn’t make sense to use 1. if there is no 2 or a. if there is no b. Stick to sentence form if you find yourself in that situation.

Vocabulary check

One of my favorite sayings is “write to express, not to impress.” Thus, when I came across the word elucidate in something I was editing, I immediately knew explain would be far preferable. Steer clear of words many people might have to look up to understand.

Published On: May 16th, 2024 / Categories: 2024 /

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