Quick Tips for Perfectly Punctuated Emails

Good punctuation is key to maintaining a professional appearance across all business communications, including email.

While becoming a total grammar whizz may be a step too far, getting to grips with the fundamentals really does matter, if you don’t want it to detract from talks of all the great things you do – especially when engaging with clients and prospects. That’s why we’ve put together a quick article, guiding you through the basics.

The APOSTROPHE

Apostrophes have two main purposes. Firstly, they identify a ‘contraction’ – where words have been abbreviated, or two words merged, through the omission of certain sounds or letters.

For example:

I cannot attend next week’s meeting. > I can’t attend next week’s meeting.

Secondly, and this is by far the harder one to grasp – apostrophes indicate ‘possession’ by highlighting who owns the subject in question. For example:

John’s laptop – the laptop ‘belongs to’ John.

However, if we’re talking about something that ‘belongs to’ a plural, the apostrophe goes after the ‘s’, like this:

John has 20 years’ experience (the experience ‘belongs to’ the years).

As opposed to just one year of experience, in which case we would say:

John has one year’s experience.

Confusing we know!

It’s slightly different when the word that needs an apostrophe already has an ‘s’ on the end. For words already ending in an ‘s’, whether they be plural or those pesky surnames like ‘Jones’ or ‘Davis’, it gets a little more complicated. 

The SEMI-COLON

A semi-colon connects two independent parts of a sentence that are related to one another, without including a conjunction such as ‘and’ or ‘like’. Semi-colons are a middle ground between commas and full stops, but they definitely have a distinct place in between.

For example:

I’m on a call all day today; we will schedule the meeting in for next week.

Having said that, it is becoming more and more common for today’s writers to use a dash instead, which pretty much serves the same purpose – although grammar purists may object!

Semi-colons can also be used to separate elements of a list, where each element contains multiple words and/or additional punctuation – and just using commas could be confusing. For example:

When moving offices, Jane packed up a calendar that a client gave her last Christmas; a box of branded mugs, covered in dust; a photograph signed by the MD, her most prized possession; a cushion for her office chair and a tin of biscuits.

The COMMA

A comma signifies a small pause in a sentence, breaking up either words, clauses or ideas. The important thing to remember is that although we may naturally pause during speech, we shouldn’t always adopt the same breaks in our writing.

These examples may help to explain:

Never use a comma to separate a subject from its verb:
The client, sent the files. > The client sent the files.

Never separate two verbs with a comma – unless there’s a risk of misreading:
I drafted, and sent the email. > I drafted and sent the email.

Never link two independent clauses together with a comma – it’s not strong enough. Alternatively, choose either a semi-colon, a dash or full stop:
I needed an answer quickly, I marked the message as high priority. > I needed an answer quickly; I marked the message as high priority.

Always follow an introductory statement with a comma:
Before sending I re-read the email. > Before sending, I re-read the email.

When listing two or more objects, use commas to split them up. Failure to do so can result in a rather awkward understanding of a sentence:
Outside of work, my interviewee claimed to enjoy walking his video games and football at the park. > Outside of work, my interviewee claimed to enjoy walking, his video games, and football at the park.

Emails may come and go, but ensuring that yours are precisely punctuated before they leave your outbox is important when it comes to the outward appearance of your company, and the people within it. After all, it’s not just what you say – more often than not, it’s the way you say it.

What are your punctuation ‘pet hates’, or words that you struggle to get right? We’d love to know – head over to our LinkedIn at @Shine-Creative to join the discussion…