Wednesday, August 21, 2013

5 Punctuation and Grammar Rules all Marketers Should Know

Yes, I know this is filler because I haven't written anything in an age, but this is important.

As a content marketing bod, writer, p/t sub-editor and full-time anal retentive, I need to know this stuff. If you're in the same industry you should too. So pay attention and be told. I get things wrong all the time - nobody is perfect (except possibly Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction) which is why as a team we check each others stuff. Here's a few things that come up a lot - especially when clients or tech folks are writing the content and we're converting them into English afterwards:

Punctuation Marks: Inside or Outside of Quotation Marks?

Good question, and here's the definitive answer according to Miss. Jackson (my high school English teacher). The comma and the full stop (that's a "period", for you colonials) should always be inside any quotation marks. The exclamation mark, question mark, semicolon, hyphen, interrobang (or whatever) all go inside the quotation marks but only if they apply to the thing you are quoting (and not the whole sentence). If they apply to the entire sentence then they get relegated to outside the quotation marks. Rocket science it ain't.

As an aside: quotation marks are for quoting speech, words, or sentences. Also, on occasion, to show irony. They are not, however, for emphasis (that's why God invented bold type).

Multiple Punctuation Marks

This is one of the (admittedly many) things in the world that genuinely annoys me. Unless you're writing in a brand voice and your brand is an annoying, illiterate, prepubescent ass-hat, this is always a no-no.

One exclamation mark at a time. Not 3. 1 mark good. 3 marks bad. "Oh my god, Becky. Her butt is so big!" not "Oh my god, Becky. Her butt is so big!!!"

Three dots at the end of a sentence for ellipsis. No more. Just 3. 3 shall be the number of the dotting. Not 5, or 6, or 7...

WTF is Title Case, and why Should I Care?

Now here's a "rule" that's not quite so cut and dried. Every blog or collection of articles has a style and you should ultimately establish and stick to that house style. That said, here's what I was taught in the 80's back in Miss. Jackson's class and it's stood me in good stead. This is also how they did it when I worked for Associated Press.

Basically, capitalise any words (including conjunctions and prepositions) that have four or more letters. If the title starts or ends with a word with less than 4 characters, make that a capital too. On top of that, all the usual abbreviation and capitalisation rules (like the capital letter "I") still apply.

Doing this saves those of us who are going to embed your article in Facebook from cursing your name as we have to alter the title to look literate before pressing "post".

Effect and Affect, and others.

"Affect" is (pretty much always) a doing word. It means to cause change or emotion. It can also mean to feign a false character trait (like "affectation").

"Effect" is a thing (noun) and a doing word (verb). We get "an effect", and something can "be effected" (i.e., "cause and effect").

'irregardless' is my killing word.

While we're on the indirect topic, "should of" should be "should have". "That" and "which" are not transferable, and the same is true of "less" and "fewer". Irony and Coincidence mean two completely different things - please look them up. Let's not even get started on "who" and "whom".

How the Hell do Apostrophes Work?

Don't worry, any non English major gets this messed up. Apostrophes are there to indicate possession for naming words, like "The Doctor's fez," but not with a personal pronoun such as: your, their, whose, and its. To indicate a plural possession you make the noun a plural and then use the apostrophe, like "the Timelords' robes."

Apostrophes are also used to replace letters in contractions ("has not" being "hasn't", "is not" being "isn't" etc.). Most of the time they're not there to show plurals. Very handy for brand voices where you want to be a bit more casual and friendly and have a younger tone.

The Basics of Using Semi Colons (and Colons).

Most of us have no clue how semi colons work, but we use them anyway because they look pretty. To be fair, I'm guilty of this myself.

It's actually pretty simple. just use a colon (like the vid above) when you want to list or clarify something. It can also be used to start (and to introduce the latter part of) a sentence. Eg. “The role of the colon is easy: to introduce.”

Semi colons are used when you get two clauses that can also work separately as two separate sentences, but they also work well together. In the rhythm of the sentence it's like a little pause, but not a comma. Eg. “His wife calls it socialising; Nik calls it anthropology.” Very often you can replace a semi colon with a full stop or a hyphen. Again, big thanks to Miss. Jackson (and for insisting I read Hitchhikers Guide).

So there you go. As a content creator, social gnu, and marketing bod these are the big ones that I find people ask about or have problems with. If you have any more please share, and feel free to point out any punctuation or grammar errors in the above.

Oh, and on a personal level, "like" is not a conjunction. Thank you.