Why Punctuation is Important

For Small Businesses

Have you ever read something that felt like a confusing mess? Or you talked about it with others, and you realize you read it differently and received a different message from the same sentence? A lot of this is due to punctuation. Punctuation extends into more than just how you end sentences. Punctuation adds pauses, inflection cues, and emphasis on specific words.

When it comes to punctuation, you have to be careful you do it right, or else your message can be lost. Your use of punctuation can significantly affect how your audience reads what you’ve written, and the meaning of your writing can be changed drastically just based on your use of punctuation. If you’re writing for a small business, you don’t want your message to come across differently from what you’re trying to say.

What are the different types of Punctuation?

In total, there are 14 different punctuation symbols in the English language:

  • - Period (.)
  • - Exclamation point (!)
  • - Question mark (?)
  • - Comma (,)
  • - Colon (:)
  • - Semi-colon ()
  • - Parentheses (“)
  • - Apostrophe (‘)
  • - Parentheses (( ))
  • - Ellipsis (…)
  • - Braces ({ })
  • - Brackets ([ ])
  • - Hyphen (-)
  • - Dash (-)

Only 3 of them are used to end sentences - the period, question mark, and exclamation point. The rest of them are used within sentences in order to separate parts of the sentences, add tone, clarification, alter words, or anything else that would help relate to the topic of the sentence. You’re not going to use all of them together. In fact, there are some you’ll hardly use at all. They’re still important to know about and learn how to use them properly.

The Power of Punctuation

The power that simple punctuation has over what your write is almost insane. One minor addition, or missing piece, can completely alter the writing. Let’s take a comma, for example. This little symbol affects how you read sentences more than it seems. Its popularity can lead to a lot of mistakes if not used properly, and this can lead to a completely different sentence. One of the most known examples of the power of a comma is a sentence like this:

Examples of the Power of a Comma

Let's eat dad! Without a comma, this sentence seems horrifying and shocking to the reader. It clearly doesn’t convey the message that it’s intended to.

Let's add a comma and see what happens.

Let’s eat, dad! Suddenly this sentence isn’t about eating someone. It’s now about eating with someone! That’s a much more appealing sentence, wouldn’t you agree?

The different ways of reading that sentence stem from the use of that comma. The comma helps you differentiate what the action in that sentence is from who is going to be doing the action.

Let's step it up to show how more punctuation usage can have even more power over the meaning. Look at this sentence below:

“A woman without her man is nothing.”

This simple sentence is an excellent example of the power of different forms of punctuation and how they can alter the meaning. There are multiple ways to add punctuation to this sentence that are correct but lead to different meanings.

“A woman– without her, man is nothing.”

“A woman, without her man, is nothing.”

In the first example, we have a dash and a comma. The dash separates “A woman” from the rest and adds a pause. This setup makes the rest of the sentence sound like a definition of what a woman is. In this version, women are extremely important, and men need women to have a purpose. The second version has an entirely different meaning. Using two commas to separate “without her man” from the beginning and end of the sentence make the sentence read as if men are needed for women to have a purpose. They make it seem like “without her man” describes a woman. Minor punctuation changes have drastically different meanings to the same set of words. You may know what your meaning is in your writing, but if you can’t translate that properly through the punctuation you use, your meaning runs the risk of not being recognized by your audience.

Tips on How to Improve Your Punctuation

Don’t overuse different forms of punctuation.

Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. This goes for your writing as well. Overusing various forms of punctuation can add a negative tone or make whatever you’ve written more challenging to read. Commas are a great way to add pauses to your wringing and help certify certain things, but if you add too many, your writing will be littered with comma splices, and odds are your sentences will be overly complicated to read. Dashes (–) can be great at adding space and helping your writing look and sound more professional, but too many can add an unsavory amount of arrogance to your writing and rub people the wrong way.

Avoid run-on sentences.

Just like sentences with too many pauses can become annoying or difficult to read, having a sentence with no pauses can be the same. It may even be worse in some cases. It causes information overload, and the reader's eyes and mind never get a chance to pause and actually understand what they’re reading.

Think about your writing as if you’re talking.

This will really come in handy when communicating with other colleagues or possible clients and customers. In this digital age, punctuation has gone from just being used to make sentences grammatically correct and has moved to help invoke a specific tone or inflection used when talking. You could be writing about something positive and exciting, but if you don't use the proper punctuation in your writing to convey those emotions, then your reader won’t know what you’re meaning, and you could come off wrong. They don’t have any visual or audio cues to go from in writing as they do in person. You have to learn how to invoke those tones in your writing using punctuation.

Remember that some rules can be bent.

Punctuation rules make sense, given how complicated language has gotten, and they are important to learn and follow. It’s important, though, to acknowledge that language and the rules for writing are ever-changing. In today’s society, you don’t always have to do things by the book. Sometimes using a period to end your sentences in a message makes you come off harsher towards your audience and so leaving it off could possibly help you from seeming like that. Don’t be afraid to break or bend grammar rules, within reason, if doing so would help your intended message be received.

For more information on how you can use punctuation, check out these articles below.

"Sometimes it's not what you say... but how you punctuate"

"Punctuation Marks and How to Use Them"

We hope you learned more about the importance of punctuation in your writing and how you can use it to convey your message better to converse with those you interact with in your small business. If you need help learning how to improve your writing and communication, Comprehensive Consulting Solutions for Small Businesses can help!