for these skills
Rarely use these punctuation marks:
Em dash ( — )
Exclamation points ( ! )
Ellipses ( . . . )
Slashes ( / )
Semicolons ( ; )
Brackets ( [ ] )
Use these punctuation marks freely:
Commas ( , )
Periods ( . )
( : )
Parentheses ( )
Question marks ( ? )
Quotation marks ( " ' )
Explicit business writing
uses the simplest punctuation marks because they help the reader navigate
through the text most easily.
Rarely use these punctuation marks.
marks do not make business writing clearer.
They may even cause confusion for three reasons:
Business writers use them in nonstandard ways so
their meanings are not clear to the reader.
Even when used correctly, their meanings are
most often lost on readers. Most readers
interpret them as simply breaks in the sentence.
simpler punctuation marks communicate more quickly and easily.
You may know how to
use these punctuation marks appropriately, and they may contribute to the
clarity of your writing. If so, you may
decide to continue to use them. However,
if you, like most business people, are not sure how to us them correctly, don't
use them at all.
Em dash ( — ) Many business writers don't realize
that a dash is different from a hyphen. A hyphen is a short horizontal line: ( - ). Use hyphens only to join words or within
words. A dash is two or three times the
length of a hyphen: ( — and – ). Use
dashes to interrupt sentences and show ranges of numbers.
commas and parentheses are better punctuation marks to interrupt sentences. Use commas instead of dashes to insert
information into the sentence because commas maintain the flow of information. Use parentheses around information that is clearly
not part of the flow of the sentence.
business writers don't know these rules for using dashes:
are two dashes: an em dash ( — ) and an en dash ( – ).
em dash is the longer dash. Use an em
dash to make a strong interruption in a sentence—only a strong interruption. Most writers don't know how to use em dashes. We recommend you not use em dashes in your business writing.
An en dash is shorter than an em dash, but
longer than a hyphen. Use an en dash to show ranges of numbers:
1995–1998. You will use the en dash between numbers in your business writing.
Don't put blank spaces before or after dashes. That likely will change in the future because
publications are commonly putting spaces before and after dashes, but for now,
the spaces are still not acceptable in business writing.
for use in newsletters and informal
points ( ! ) statements, don't use
exclamation points in business writing. Readers expect you to be objective, so they
feel uncomfortable if you express emotion, such as that suggested by an
don't use a string of exclamation points in email: "Change the
date!!!!!!" Readers feel you're
screaming at them and may misunderstand the feeling you're conveying. They'll assume the worst.
Ellipses ( . . . ) Business writers use three to five
periods in a row to show a change in thought, a pause, or other interruption in
the text. However, the reader can't
interpret the meaning the writer is giving to the periods, and it is a misuse
of a form of punctuation called an ellipsis. An ellipsis should be three periods separated
by spaces: ( . . . ). Use the ellipsis within a quotation to show that words
have been omitted from the quotation. You
may also use an ellipsis to show that a choice must be made in an "If . .
. then" statement in a procedure. Otherwise,
don't use the ellipsis.
Slashes ( / ) Don't use slashes in business writing except in
fractions or names everyone spells with slashes. They don't convey the relationship between
the words separated by slashes. For
example, is a supervisor/coordinator a supervisor who is also a
coordinator, a supervisor and a coordinator, a supervisor or a coordinator,
or a supervisor also called a coordinator? The reader isn't sure.
the word describing the relationship for the slash. Of course, if your company actually has a
"supervisor/coordinator" position, you must spell that title with the
slash. Don't put blank spaces before and
writers often use "and/or" when "and" or
"or" will suffice. If you feel
the reader may be confused if you use "and" or "or" when it
could be either, state that explicitly. The
statement, "I will meet with your designer and/or graphic artist,"
would be better written in this way: "I will meet with your designer or
graphic artist or both." However,
"and/or" does work at rare times; just use it when you are sure it is
necessary and the reader will understand it.
Semicolons ( ; ) Avoid using semicolons unless you know well how they
should be used. Business writers use
them to extend sentences or as a special code meaningful to the writer that is
lost on the reader. The semicolon is
often confused with the colon ( : ).
may be used to separate items in a list when the list has longer items and is
embedded in a paragraph. However,
explicit business writing requires that lists with longer items be broken out with
bullets or numbers. If you feel the need
to use semicolons between items in a sentence, that is an indication that you
should break the list out using numbers or bullets.
Brackets ( [ ] ) Don't use brackets unless your company has
adopted them for some specialized use, such as around the names of keyboard keys:
"Press the [Esc] key." They
are another form of punctuation writers use as special notations, but their special
meaning is often known only to the writer.
Standard usage for brackets requires that they be limited to these uses:
quotations to show that the writer has
added words to clarify the quotation
As parentheses within parentheses in text
To set off phonetic symbols, such as [ä]
Use these punctuation marks freely.
Commas create clear,
explicit sentences. This short
explanation of how to use commas in business writing is not
intended to suggest that you should not learn standard usage rules for commas. It is just that many business writers don't
know the rules or don't apply them, so this advice about using commas provides
a set of easy-to-apply guidelines you can use while you're learning the rules
for comma usage.
commas to make text clearer. The
comma is a signal to the reader that a small change in the text is occurring. When you believe a comma will make the
writing clearer, put one in. If a comma
might interrupt the flow of the sentence or might make it unclear, don't put
Don't put in a comma every
place you seem to pause as you say the sentence to yourself. Sometimes that makes the sentence less clear
because it breaks up the thought.
To apply the guidelines
that follow, start by finding the thing the sentence is about and its action. Sometimes, they're separated. The thing and action form the main part of
the sentence. The main parts are bolded
in these sentences:
In a moment, we saw the car turn around.
Before the meeting, we introduced ourselves to the guests.
guidelines for using commas to make the writing clear.
the sentence has words that come before
the main part, put a comma after the words to show that you've finished them
and you're starting the main part of the sentence. The main parts are bolded in these examples:
After eating, we listened to John speak.
To our surprise, the room was very spacious.
the sentence has words that come after
the main part, put a comma before the words to show that you've finished the
main part and are adding a thought.
finally reached the house, totally exhausted.
was older, but elegant.
the sentence contains two things and two actions, forming two main parts, put a
comma between them to show that the first main part has ended and the next main
part is beginning.
After we loaded the packages, the truck
This vendor will do for now, but we need
to find a more reliable one soon.
The brochures didn't meet our standards,
and they arrived two days late.
Sara and Jim arrived on time, so they saw
commas before and after information you have inserted in the middle of the
sentence. Usually, the sentence would be
unclear without the commas.
The software we purchased, which was the
full version, doesn't have the functions we expected.
Later in the day, after the test was
completed, we found that the problem was in the instrument.
We did find, to our surprise, that none
of the switches had been turned on.
you use two or more words to describe something following the words, put a comma
between them to show that they each refer to the word following, not to each
Bring the large, red binder with you to the meeting.
He was a confident, upbeat, articulate candidate for
Inside the pipes were old, worn gaskets.
If the sentence has items in a list connected by
"and," put a comma at the end of each item, even just before the
You should access the page, click on
"Agents," and locate the agent's name in the list you see.
We'll have to set up product support,
fulfillment, and billing.
I was pleased to see that the new
version is easier to use, faster in preparing reports, less difficult to
navigate, and capable of handling more customers.
Use periods at the ends of all complete
sentences, even in lists. Periods are
clear signals to the reader that a thought has ended.
However, don't put periods
at the ends of items in lists when the items are not complete sentences. Normally, don't put periods after headings
unless they are complete sentences.
Watch for run-on sentences. When you insert a comma in a longer sentence,
check to see whether you really want to end the first part of the sentence with
a period. If you have complete sentences
before and after the comma, insert a period and make two sentences.
Watch for sentence
fragments. When you put a period at the
end of a short sentence, check to be sure the words before the period and the
words after the period do not need to be in the same sentence.
A colon is two periods in a column ( :
). It is not the same as a semicolon ( ;
), which is a comma below a period. Use
colons at the ends of sentences to show that the text that follows explains or
defines the words just before the colon.
You must have a complete sentence before the colon. The words that follow a colon should be added
information about the last concept in the sentence. After the colon, write the explaining or
defining words and a period.
Use parentheses when the information you are
inserting into a sentence won't fit into the flow of the sentence. Parentheses help make the sentence clear
because they indicate that the information is important, but not part of the
flow of the sentence. However, your
first choice is always to use commas so the information remains part of the normal
flow of the sentence. If you use
parentheses often, look at the information you're putting into parentheses to
see whether it could go into the sentence without the parentheses.
Use question marks as usual. Never use a series of question marks to ask a
question emphatically: "Where is the report????" It feels like you're scolding and the reader
may feel you're angry.
Use double quotation
marks ( " ) unless you are
quoting something within a quotation: "Wei said, 'Put these on the wall'
and gave Terri the posters."