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Make Your Point

Make Your Point

Lynne Truss’s book Eats Shoots & Leaves is an entertaining book about punctuation. The blurb of the book provides a humorous anecdote about the misuse of punctuation.

It explains that a panda walks into a café, orders a sandwich, eats it, draws a gun and fires shots in the air. The waiter is confused and asks why. The panda gives him a badly punctuated wildlife manual and asks him to look up panda in the manual.

The waiter does and this is what he reads:

Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves. Obviously, the panda shoots_emaze_commanual was explaining the culinary habits of the panda. The comma got in the way. Shoots and leaves became verbs in this context instead of nouns.

Many communicators may understand the basic punctuation rule: start a sentence with a capital letter and end with a full stop, question or exclamation mark. Somehow, business writers seem to have forgotten how and when to use the end-of-sentence punctuation mark correctly and effectively.

This is especially true with the exclamation mark.

For the more creative mind, the exclamation mark is the mark for self-expression. Rule number one: exclamation marks should be used after true exclamations (What a show!) or imperatives (Stop!). One exclamation mark is sufficient and not to be overused like this!!! Or this?! Your writing will sound more like a squeaky cheerleader.

In creative writing the full stop can be used effectively to show excitement. Consider the following sentence: Oh. My. God. He. Looked. At. Me.  Reserve this style for storytelling. It has no value in the business world. This style will capture the attention of teenagers who are rebellious and hate their English teachers. Business readers want credibility. They need to feel secure that the company they are investing their money with has the ability to understand simple things like when to use a full stop or not depend on the exclamation mark to express urgency.

Many communicators seem to have forgotten the uses of the comma and the difference between a colon and a semi colon. The best advice? Register for a grammar refresher course. Invest in books that explain the principles of punctuation in a clear and concise manner. (Ed: or keep reading  these posts.)

The last thought: if you are not sure, keep it simple. Stick to the basics. Short sentences make more sense. If it does not sound right, then rewrite.

Punctuation giving you headaches? Don’t know your commas from your semi-colon?
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This article was first published on inov8t online magazine.