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The Write Stuff
June 2024 Volume 20 Issue 6

Punctuation matters (continued)

Last month, we focused on periods, commas, hyphens and dashes. Now, as promised, let’s turn our sights to less used but still important punctuation: parentheses, semicolons and colons, exclamation points, and question marks.

Parentheses
Be cautious when using parentheses in a sentence to ensure you’re not ruining its flow. I often choose to set off copy using em dashes instead.

Clunky: Summer temperatures vary (cooler near the ocean and hotter as you move east) in San Diego so you may need a wardrobe change if you plan to be inland and at the coast on the same day.
Better: Summer temperatures vary in San Diego (cooler near the ocean and hotter as you move east) so you may need a wardrobe change if you plan to be inland and at the coast on the same day.

Semicolons and colons
Semicolons either tie together two sentences—not clauses—or are used to aid readability of certain lists.

Incorrect: My family plans to visit in August; traveling from Chicago.
Correct: My family plans to visit in August; Cubbie is beyond excited.
Also correct: Our agenda may include Coronado on day 1; Old Town, Little Italy and Seaport Village on day 2; and La Jolla/Torrey Pines on day 3.

Colons are used to introduce copy or lists, as you can see throughout this article.

Exclamation points
Unless you’re writing ad copy, I suggest eliminating exclamation points in business writing. Allow readers to determine how excited they are about something you’ve written rather than trying to artificially create emotion.

Question marks
Make sure you’re only using question marks at the end of actual questions.

Incorrect: I wonder how many people are disappointed when visiting San Diego in May and June, which tend to be cloudy, cooler months?
Correct: I wonder how many people are disappointed when visiting San Diego in May and June, which tend to be cloudy, cooler months.
Correct: How many people are disappointed when visiting San Diego in May and June, which tend to be cloudy, cooler months?

Remember, it’s your job as the writer to guide readers through your copy—and using proper punctuation will help you ensure they don’t get lost along the way.

Positively tense

Sometimes changing just one word of a sentence results in different feeling for the reader. For example:

  • I would work hard.
  • I will work hard.
The only difference is the verb tense—would versus will—but the second sentence evokes a more positive emotion.

Three times the fun

Can you tell which of the following clauses is correct?

  • A short- or long-term problem
  • A short-term situation
  • In the short term
They all are. Not all hyphenated words lose their hyphen when used as a noun—but some do.
Published On: June 17th, 2024 / Categories: 2024 /

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