4 Rules for Avoiding Poor Punctuation Humiliation

One of my all-time favorite Facebook posts is an illustration of the importance of proper punctuation. The poster (and whoever started this one was a genius), demonstrates how the placement of a single comma significantly alters the meaning of a sentence:

Sentence 1: Let’s eat Grandma!

Sentence 2: Let’s eat, Grandma!

The accompanying slogan – “Punctuation saves lives”- got its point across beautifully. Of course, not everyone shares my fixation on punctuation. And while you don’t have to be a punctuation junkie to be successful in digital marketing, it does pay to follow some basic rules.

Rule No. 1 – Just end it!

Exclamation points, multiple question marks, ellipses and bizarre combinations of multiple types of marks – you see sentences ended in just about every way imaginable these days. It’s one thing if you’re using an exclamation point followed by a smiley emoticon when chatting up a friend on Facebook. It’s another matter altogether if you’re writing marketing copy. When it comes to ending a sentence, a good old-fashioned period remains the gold standard. It tells the reader you’re done without being too distracting, the way an exclamation point (or six of them together) can be.

Rule No. 2 – Avoid comma coma

When it comes to commas, there are two ways to err badly: overuse them, or never use them at all. Either error can kill your copy just as surely as that hypothetical grandma in our earlier example. The rules for when to use a comma are far too lengthy to go into here, but if you have any doubt about your comma prowess, head over to Grammarbook.com and check out their awesome, comprehensive and easily understandable list of rules.

Rule No. 3 – Don’t understand it? Don’t use it

The semicolon is one of the most abused forms of punctuation. The rules governing semicolon use are so esoteric that even a punctuation and grammar junkie like me can get confused. When in doubt, don’t use it. If you are confused, you will likely confuse your readers. You can almost always replace a semicolon with a period and turn the phrases it links into two separate sentences. It’s easier for everyone to understand.

Rule No. 4 – Humor should always be intended

Few writing foibles offer the potential for unintended humor as poor punctuation does (see Grandma example above). Humor should always be intentional, not accidental. Proper punctuation can help ensure your audience is laughing with you, not at you.

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