Quick Tips for Perfectly Punctuated Emails
Successful communication throughout the business day is essential, and while you might not think it’s a major issue – good punctuation in those all-important emails really does matter. Not only to guarantee that what you’re saying is correctly understood, but also to ensure that you present a professional appearance to external audiences.
Whilst wrapping your head around it could be something you’ve been putting off, or maybe something you never even realised was necessary – understanding how to punctuate correctly is vital in business, and can make all the difference to how you, and your company, are perceived.
We thought it might help to put together a short article covering some of the ones that we know people struggle with most:
Apostrophes have two main purposes. Firstly, they identify a ‘contraction’ – where words have been abbreviated, or two words merged, through the omission of certain sounds or letters. For example:
I cannot attend next week’s meeting. > I can’t attend next week’s meeting.
The projected deadline has been deferred and it is now due on 27th > The projected deadline has been deferred and it’s now due on 27th November.
The decision on whether to use these types of contractions or not can also affect the ‘tone of voice’ of your communication. More on that in a separate article!
Secondly, and this is by far the harder one to grasp – apostrophes indicate ‘possession’ by highlighting who owns the subject in question. For example:
John’s laptop – the laptop ‘belongs to’ John.
David’s copywriting services – the services ‘belong to’ (as in, are provided by) David.
However, if we’re talking about something that ‘belongs to’ a plural, the apostrophe goes after the ‘s’, like this:
John has 20 years’ experience (the experience ‘belongs to’ the years).
As opposed to just one year of experience, in which case we would say:
John has one year’s experience.
Confusing we know!
It’s slightly different when the word that needs an apostrophe already has an ‘s’ on the end. For words already ending in an ‘s’, whether they be plural or those pesky surnames like ‘Jones’ or ‘Davis’, it gets a little more complicated.
Generally, the rule is to only add an apostrophe after the ‘s’ that exists already – but there are exceptions – and if we go into the minute detail, this article may get rather long! To find out more, take a look at this helpful guide – https://www.grammarly.com/blog/apostrophe/
A semi-colon connects two independent parts of a sentence that are related to one another, without including a conjunction such as ‘and’ or ‘like’. Semi-colons are a middle ground between commas and full stops, but they definitely have a distinct place in between. For example:
The printer has run out of ink; a delivery arrives tomorrow.
I’m on a call all day today; we will schedule the meeting in for next week.
Having said that, it is becoming more and more common for today’s writers to use a dash instead, which pretty much serves the same purpose – although grammar purists may object!
Semi-colons can also be used to separate elements of a list, where each element contains multiple words and/or additional punctuation – and just using commas could be confusing. For example:
When moving offices, Jane packed up a calendar that a client gave her last Christmas; a box of branded mugs, covered in dust; a photograph signed by the MD, her most prized possession; a cushion for her office chair and a tin of biscuits.
A comma signifies a small pause in a sentence, breaking up either words, clauses or ideas. The important thing to remember is that although we may naturally pause during speech, we shouldn’t always adopt the same breaks in our writing.
Here are some examples which may help to explain:
Never use a comma to separate a subject from its verb:
The client, sent the files. > The client sent the files.
Never separate two verbs with a comma – unless there’s a risk of misreading:
I drafted, and sent the email. > I drafted and sent the email.
Never link two independent clauses together with a comma – it’s not strong enough. Alternatively, choose either a semi-colon, a dash or full stop:
I needed an answer quickly, I marked the message as high priority. > I needed an answer quickly; I marked the message as high priority.
Always follow an introductory statement with a comma:
Before sending I re-read the email. > Before sending, I re-read the email.
When listing two or more objects, use commas to split them up. Failure to do so can result in a rather awkward understanding of a sentence:
Outside of work, my interviewee claimed to enjoy walking his video games and football at the park. > Outside of work, my interviewee claimed to enjoy walking, his video games, and football at the park.
Also, be aware of the ‘Oxford comma’ – the final comma in a list which is written as a sentence – as if it’s not implemented correctly, it has the potential of linking the two final objects of that sentence, when actually they should be separate. For more information, have a look at this article:
Emails may come and go, but ensuring that yours are precisely punctuated before they leave your outbox is important when it comes to the outward appearance of your company, and the people within it. After all, it’s not just what you say – more often than not, it’s the way you say it.