Tips and Tricks: Punctuation Edition

We’re almost ready to introduce a preview of the new products we’ve been working on, but while you’re waiting we decided it was time to get back to blogging!

For the month of February, we’ve decided to devote all our blog posts to helping you craft the best possible content for your emails. From image editing tips to HTML code that will help you customize, we want to make sure your i’s are dotted and your t’s are crossed when it comes to email marketing content.

So let’s start with the most basic category: copyediting. What you’re saying in an email reflects on your entire institution and, unfortunately, grammar or punctuation errors can sometimes overshadow your message. Here are a few things to keep in mind when proofreading:

Oxford Comma
Another punctuation dilemma facing modern writing is the Oxford comma. Also called the serial comma, this little punctuation mark that is typically placed before the word “and” in a list sentence causes a lot of debate.

The serial comma first showed up in 1905, when Strunk’s classic guide The Elements of Style declared the serial comma necessary for clarity. Although it wasn’t actually dubbed the Oxford comma until 1978, when it showed up in Oxford English Dictionary, many style manuals still recommend using it and refer to it as such.

So what’s the final verdict on using Oxford commas? It turns out either is acceptable, as long as you keep it consistent. Modern writing favors the Oxford comma for clarity, however the AP Stylebook (which is used by journalists) says not to use it. For a complete guide on the serial comma, check out this guide by Grammar Girl.

Oxford University, where the comma gets it's name.

Oxford University, where the comma gets it’s name.

The Double Space
Inspired by this post on Slate, let us officially declare the double-space after a period dead. In fact, double-spacing after a period was never technically the right way to begin a sentence. For hundreds of years, typographers stuck to the single space. It was only for a brief time during the glory days of the manual typewriter that the two-space method was born into existence.

Typewriters used what’s called “monospaced type” that gives proportional space between all letters, making characters like ‘I’ and ‘1’ look further apart. To make up for this, people started putting two spaces after punctuation marks for easier readability. That ended in the 1970s, however, which means we’ve been perpetrating the double-space rule for way too long.

Nowadays, both the MLA Style Manual and the APA Publications Manual dictate that for formal writing, single spacing is the rule. The APA handbook DOES say double-spacing is okay for drafts…but let’s all just agree to ignore that.

Punctuation and Quotation Marks
Remembering whether you place punctuation inside or outside the quotation marks can be confusing and there’s a good reason why. Depending on which side of the pond you hail from, you might see it both ways.

American English dictates that the punctuation marks almost always go before the quotation marks, while British English allows punctuation outside quotation marks if it is not part of the quoted sentence. So when American media outlets pick up news stories from different countries, you’ll often see differences regarding the punctuation/quotation mark standard.

There are a few exceptions to the American English rule, however. Semicolons, colons, and dashes always go outside quotation marks.
For example: She said, “I don’t see it” –just as she found what she was looking for.

Punctuation following movie or book titles also goes on the outside.
For example: We just saw “Frozen”.

So there you have it, a few common writing myths de-mystified!


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