When we talk about writing, we often think only about words.
But the more I write, the more I realize that punctuation…it’s huge.
It determines how your words are read, understood, and interpreted.
I’m not talking about proper grammar, either. I don’t care so much about that.
This is a conversation about how punctuation influences the style and voice of your writing. Let me illustrate with an example:
Our beanbag chair is the comfiest chair you will ever sit in, hands down. You’ll never want to sit in anything else ever again. We guarantee you’ll be satisfied or you’ll get your money back, guaranteed. That’s our promise to you.
Erm….BORRRINGGGGGG. Let’s try that again with some different punctuation and finesse.
Looking for the comfiest chair EVER?
Of course you are. Who isn’t?
We’ve found it for you. And—spoiler alert—it’s actually a beanbag. Crazy, right?
If you don’t believe us, the good news is: You can try one first.
Then, if you’re not 100% happy—just return it and we’ll give you back every cent you paid.
The voice is completely different in versions one and two. And it not only sounds different—the punctuation variation makes them feel different, too.
This is what punctuation does to our writing. It has a major impact on style, perception, and voice—and it has nothing to do with words.
Here are a few quick lessons on punctuation that you can keep in mind the next time you sit down to write.
Quick Lessons on Punctuation
Question marks make your writing more relatable. By posing questions (rhetorical and otherwise) you can empathize with your audience.
Commas slow things down. If you need readers to pause, um, use a comma (or two.)
Exclamation points are phony. Use sparingly. They often (totally!) make you sound fake.
Periods break things up. If you want to communicate quick, simple thoughts, break down sentences and add more periods.
Em dashes pause an existing thought. If you need to add something extra or stop the reader for a moment—throw in an em dash. (Shoutout to Lianna Patch for pointing out this em dash shortcut in Google Docs.)
Parentheses add an afterthought. Think of them as your aside with the audience.
In summary: Punctuation matters. Don’t forget to think about how it influences your writing voice.
This article originally appeared in my newsletter, A Cup of Copy. Sign up and get these free tips sent right to your inbox every other Wednesday.
P.S. Two features I'm excited about this week: This one I wrote for the JENNIFER blog on working in the tech industry, and this interview with Canva on my website/teaching what I know.
P.S.S. I'm trying to do a few short YouTube videos each week answering writing and/or freelancing questions. Reply to this email with any Qs you'd like answered!