When it comes to writing your website copy, the main focus is on creating great content with compelling offers aimed at getting your audience to read what you’ve written and take up your offer.
But there’s one thing that can kill your web copy and undermine your credibility in an instant if left unchecked, and that’s punctuation.
Those small, seemingly insignificant marks play a very important role in your web copy. Punctuation marks help clarify your message and provide rhythm, flow, tone, emphasis and emotion, to what would otherwise just be an incoherent stream of words.
Overdoing punctuation is as equally annoying and distracting as no punctuation. So, to avoid any further misuse and abuse, let’s look at five common punctuation marks you need to get right before publishing your web copy.
: The Colon
Use the colon to:
- introduce a list (like at the start of this list!),
- for direct speech,
- indicate ratios and time,
- add explanation or expand on an idea mentioned in the first part of a sentence.
You will require the following ingredients: flour, eggs, milk, butter.
She said: “it’s getting late, we should go home.”
3:1 ratio, 10:35 am
There were two problems: his small income and her taste for luxury.
Don’t use the colon when using expressions like: including, such as, namely, are, and, is because these are connecting words that do the job of the colon – introducing the second part of a sentence.
! The Exclamation Mark
The exclamation mark is used to add emphasis or indicate strong emotion and is most commonly used in direct speech.
Use an exclamation mark to indicate: surprise, anger, excitement, disbelief, dismay, indignation, exasperation, orders, greetings, wishes and interjections.
The exclamation mark is should primarily be used for informal, conversational style of writing. It definitely gets subjected to a fair share of misuse and abuse. Try to avoid inserting too many exclamation marks too often, its effect is lost when overused and is really irritating to your readers. You only need the one exclamation mark to make your point!!!! Honest!
… The Ellipsis
The ellipsis mark is used to indicate missing words in a sentence or quotation without changing the meaning of the original text.
For example: “Of all the gin joints in all the … she walks into mine.” Humphrey Bogart’s famous line from the film Casablanca.
Ellipsis can be used to indicate a pause, indecision, unfinished thought or a trailing off into silence. For example: Last night while you were sleeping …
And ellipsis can also indicate that there is more information to follow as in: To be continued … or I remember a long time ago …
The ellipsis comes in handy when you are quoting large blocks of information say for a report or a case study. You would use the essential information you need to make your point and use the ellipsis to indicate that there is missing text.
Avoid overdoing the dots; the ellipsis has only three so naturally a full stop is not required. You can however, use a question mark, exclamation mark, and quotation marks for added emphasis.
. The Full Stop or Period
The full stop or period is used to end a sentence that is neither a direct question nor an exclamation. It simply indicates a pause or an end to a sentence.
The full stop has a few rules that apply to headings, page titles, certain abbreviations, initials and acronyms.
Basically a full stop is not required in a heading, page title and abbreviations such as Mr, Rd, Pty Ltd, Bros and dept – acronyms such as TAFE, Anzac, CSIRO and ASIO – or initial abbreviations such as NSW, SBS, TV, PC, IQ and CEO. It’s a good idea to check your dictionary if unsure whether a full stop is needed for a particular abbreviation.
‘ The Apostrophe
The fifth and final commonly misused punctuation mark is the apostrophe. The apostrophe is used to indicate missing letters in a contraction or shortened words like: don’t (do not); they’re (they are); it’s (it is or it has); I’ll (I will or I shall).
It’s also used to indicate possession – Mary’s plate of cupcakes; the two boys’ bicycles; three dogs’ lives; the people’s choice.
Try to avoid the ‘retail apostrophe’ catastrophe such as ‘Cheap Cauliflower’s or Bargain Shirt’s.’ These are simply statements that are not possessive or missing any letters and the apostrophe is basically meaningless and unnecessary.
That brings us to the end of the five most common punctuation mishaps and misunderstandings and hopefully helps you to write clearer and error free website copy. Remember always proofread your copy before publishing to avoid embarrassing mistakes from undermining your credibility.
About Our Guest Blogger
This article was written by Sandra Slavec. Sandra is a Copywriter, Editor and Proofreader who is also known as The Jargon Busting Copy Chick. Find out more about Sandra’s business at www.sandraslavec.com.au and read her blog here.