I went into a local pizzeria the other day. On the take-out box was written the name of the establishment. Below that was written The Best “Pizza” in Town. I wonder what prompted the proprietors to put quotation marks around the name of the product. I have no qualms about eating their “pizza.” I know how good it is. For a new customer, the implication of quotation marks around the word “pizza” might raise an eyebrow.
I have worked in business offices for many years. When I started out, we used typewriters. Proofreading was an important skill. We were expected to have command of style, spelling and vocabulary in whichever language we wrote. Misuse of punctuation and carelessness where spelling is concerned results in a sloppy appearance and in miscommunication.
Lately, employees seem to rely on “spell check” and “grammar check” functions. Spell check only identifies words not in the computer library. There is a huge difference between a lawyer’s office sending out a note that says, “We plan to sue your business,” and “We plan to use your business.” The use of improper punctuation can result in miscommunication.
I recently received an e-mail from a friend who had been on vacation. She wrote, “We spent most of our first day camping sitting on lawn chairs watching a family of rabbits playing checkers and drinking hot chocolate.” Had I seen rabbits playing checkers and drinking hot chocolate, I would have spent time watching them. A couple of commas could have changed my image of her camping trip.
When I taught English, I used to use the following humorous example of how punctuation changes meaning. There is a big difference between:
1) Those old things in the corner are my husbands. (Translation: I have several husbands stored in the corner of a room. They are all old.)
2) Those old things in the corner are my husband’s.(Translation: I have several old things piled up in the corner. Those things belong to my husband.)
3) Those old things in the corner are my husbands’. (Translation: I have several old things piled up in the corner. They belong to several men to whom I am married.)
The things we speak are ethereal. The words are spoken and then are gone. Our written communications have a longer shelf-life. Text messages, tweets, and e-mails continue to exist even longer than paper communication. Paper communication gets filed and forgotten. E-mails can be brought up again with a quick word-search.
A considered and consistent use of proper spelling and punctuation is essential in all forms of business communications. The way in which we write communicates a message every bit as important as the subject matter of our correspondence. Written communications show the world our professionalism. The way in which we communicate has the power to change people’s perceptions of us; it has the ability to sway people’s decisions whether or not to do business with us.
While how we dress in our place of business may change over the years, the rules of punctuation have not changed. The shortcuts that have become the computer-age norm in casual communications do not belong in formal business or academic writing. There is a place in business for informality and friendliness, but not at the expense of clarity and attention to detail. Attention to grammar and punctuation is not exciting; it is profitable. Careless mistakes and misuses create bad impressions, lose business, cost time, and reduce productivity.
The adherence to the rules of grammar and attention to proper punctuation helps establish a positive impression when developing client relationships, communicating with co-workers and impressing employers. When you deliver your messages with precision and clarity, people notice. They will infer that your effective communication equates with your ability to deliver products and services.
Poor punctuation, grammar and word choice leads to unclear communications. If your writing is confusing, it will not inspire confidence. Some errors will cost you business. Writing that engages the reader and provides them clear understanding will make the reader feel more at ease in doing business with you.
Unclear, confusing or ambiguous writing causes misunderstanding and misinterpretations. These can lead to costly mistakes, hurt feelings, lost money and legal issues.
As the world shrinks and businesses become more global, it becomes increasingly important to be accurate in business communications. There are differences between the way those in the United Kingdom and those in the United States punctuate. There are differences in word usage. For those who operate internationally, there are benefits to learning to move between the two styles. It is considered more appropriate, however, to use either American or British punctuation as your standard. As one professor of linguistics said, “American-English is acceptable. British-English is acceptable. A mix of the two creates Mid-Atlantic English. The only things one should find in the middle of the Atlantic are icebergs and the remains of the Titanic.”
Lord, deliver me from the man who never makes a mistake, and also from the man who makes the same mistake twice. – William James Mayo
As with any essay on grammar and punctuation, no amount of proofreading will be sufficient. While I have checked and rechecked the material, it will certainly contain errors. All self-righteous and preachy articles on the demise of English invariably do contain errors in grammar. Please feel free to comment on any errors. My ego is prepared for the deflation that follows publication of this sort of article.