Updated: Jan 13
When I was an English teacher, I always told my students, "rules were meant to be broken." Grammar rules that is. And like writing in the passive voice, punctuation choice is no exception to the rule.
Punctuate Like You Mean It in Your Content
As Roy Peter Clark tells us in Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, "I prefer tools, not rules." He claims this because he believes we have been taught convention over invention. If you are looking to add more voice to your writing, use punctuation according to how you speak. For example, Kurt Vonnegut, a fan of the comma, used it in a way to provide insight into the mind of the speaker to the reader: "He may have been a genius, as mutations sometimes are." While the comma in this sentence doesn't provide clarity, it does give us a glimpse into how Mr. Vonnegut spoke.
Clark compares punctuation usage in a paragraph to a winding path. The period is the red light; the comma is a hump in the road; the semicolon is a "rolling stop;" the colon is like a school zone; the dash "is a tree branch in the road." When you write, think of the punctuation-path analogy and apply it in your marketing techniques.
The Path of Punctuation in Your Content
Everyone has their preferences about punctuation: content writers may tell you to keep sentences to a minimum of 18 words, so compound sentences are usually out of the question, like this one (that made up, including all of this, 35 words). Did you get lost, or did you go on a joy ride? If you are selling cars, would you be opposed to writing a sentence that sells adventure?
Build an Organic Audience with Your Conent
Other content writers may tell you that readability is the number one priority of a sentence's responsibility. If the sentence isn't short, concise, and free of the majority of punctuation, then your blog or website content will get more hits on Google. But, I challenge the notion that readability is the end-all, a be-all means to an end of a sentence. Learn the keywords of your industry, and you will get hits. Find out what people want and serve their needs. Sure, people don't want to have to think too hard, but they also don't want something that doesn't pique their interest. Customer ratings should take precedence over Google algorithms. Build an organic audience with creativity and innovation, and let your punctuation steer the wheel.
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Clark, R. P. (2008). Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer. Columbus, GA: Little, Brown.