Punctuation is weird. I know. That doesn’t make it unimportant, though. As an entrepreneur, why should you care? Because good punctuation helps with clarity. And whether you’re writing for your business blog, your email newsletter, or your book, clarity is obviously important.
Good punctuation helps with clarity. - @jodibrandon
Punctuation marks create sense in your writing for your readers. They illustrate the end of a sentence, the end of a thought or idea, or a transition to a new idea —and so much more. Most people have the basics down (period, comma, question mark), but unless you’re currently taking a middle-school English class, you might need to brush up on the usage of some of the others.
The Series Comma Battle
Commas aren’t generally confusing, but the battle of the series (sometimes called the Oxford) comma is real. Some style guides prefer its use; some don’t. What we in the book publishing industry refer to as “Chicago style” (aptly named after The Chicago Manual of Style) DOES use the series comma. Not sure what I mean? Take a look at this example:
SERIES COMMA: The pie was made with strawberries, blueberries, peaches, and cherries.
NO SERIES COMMA: The pie was made with strawberries, blueberries, peaches and cherries.
Without the series comma, the second sentence COULD be read as a list of three items:
A combination of peaches and cherries
This is a simplified example. Sometimes it’s more complicated and you’ll need to re-read a sentence to be sure how many items are actually in a list. Re-reading means slowing down, which is sometimes inefficient.
If you have a marketing background, you’re likely more familiar with AP style, which doesn’t use the series comma. If you decide to write a book, your copy editor will want to change this, but otherwise, you do you.
Hyphens, Dashes, and More - Oh My!
Dashes seem to really confuse some people. Here’s an oversimplified breakdown:
EN DASH: Used to indicate time spans and ranges of numbers, as well as connecting a compound phrase (e.g., Nobel Prize–winning author). Longer than a hyphen; shorter than an em dash.
EM DASH: Used in place of a comma, parentheses, or a colon to draw attention to a piece of text (e.g., When his mother realized how many questions he missed — 23 out of 40 — she called his teacher.) Often used in pairs.
Hyphens are technically not dashes, because they’re used to separate parts of the same word rather than to separate groups of words. - @jodibrandon
Inside or Outside of Quotation Marks?
Should text go inside or outside of quotation marks? In British and Canadian English, outside. In American English, inside. Usually. (You knew there was a catch, right?) Take a look at this text:
He asked, “What time are you leaving?”
The question mark is part of the quotation here, so it’s contained within the quotation marks. This example is a little different:
He was there, so why did he say “I wasn’t there”?
This time, the question mark applies to the overall sentence, not the quotation within the sentence.
Obviously this post isn’t exhaustive. (I realize that most casual writers don’t care about punctuation NEARLY as much as this book editor and writing coach does. I mean, you probably don’t even have a favorite punctuation mark, do you? That might be a thing just for publishing people.) What else do you want to know about punctuation? Let me know in the comments and I’ll get back to you.