By: Holly Kirby, Traffic Manager and Copy Editor
Longer to-do lists and shorter attention spans mean less time to make impactful connections. Less copy. Shorter videos. Shorter e-newsletters (see our nanonews “low word count” boast). Less is more people. Wait—how’s “less” more people? Oh, I meant: Less is more, people! Which underscores the importance of ensuring the precious few words you do use communicate clearly and effectively.
Most of the writing we do is informal. So, will consumers notice if you say “who” instead of “whom”? Truthfully: not likely. Will they stop using your product or service if you incorrectly punctuate your social media posts? Probably not. (Will they point out all the errors in this blog post? Only time will tell…) But will they chuckle at a perfectly executed and punctuated punchline? You bet. And that chuckle builds a connection with your brand, and that connection can be nurtured with correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
So without further (not farther) ado, here’s a refresher from a professional copy editor on some often-seen mistakes.
It’s & Its
It’s: when it has an apostrophe s at the end, it is (it’s!) a contraction that always means it is or it has.
Its: without an apostrophe, the word is a possessive pronoun (just like your is the possessive pronoun of you).
Complement & Compliment
Complement: the term you need when something completes or enhances something else.
Compliment: the term you’re looking for when someone says your shoes are dope.
Everyday & Every Day
Everyday: an adjective meaning common or ordinary.
Every day means exactly that: every single day.
While your organization is made up of lovely people, the pronoun you should use to describe it is in fact it not who.
Dashes (em dashes, en dashes, hyphens)
Em dash: the longest dash usually offsets a thought or causes the reader to pause.
En dash: shorter than the em dash, it should be used between dates and times.
Hyphen: shortest of the three, it is most often used in compound words.
Want further clarification? What a relief—we can help.
We could devote an entire novella to the serial comma debate but for the case of brevity: pick one stance—pro-Oxford comma or anti-Oxford comma—and stick with it in all of your organization’s communications.
Spacing After Periods
One space after a period. (Unless you’re using a typewriter, in which case…are you Tom Hanks?)
Punctuation & Parentheses
People love ’em (but don’t always remember how to punctuate them). Generally speaking: if a complete sentence lives inside the parentheses, the end punctuation can go inside too. However, if there isn’t a complete sentence inside, end punctuation goes outside.
Punctuation & Quotation Marks
In American English: commas, periods, and exclamation marks usually go inside the quotes. Question marks sometimes go inside and sometimes do not. There’s a lot to cover here. So we’ll direct you to these experts.
Make sure your bullet structure remains consistent (i.e., capitalization, end punctuation, wording, etc.).
Speaking of consistency, the brain likes things that are balanced, and it notices sentence structure patterns whether or not you realize it. Therefore: parallel structure!
Finally, if you aren’t sure about something, just look it up. I often double check grammar and punctuation rules, too. Here are some references I frequent:
My go-to when clients ask us about spelling or have specific wording questions. (Bonus: the site also has quick games that help you become a smarter human.)
Web Site of Washington State University’s Professor Paul Brians
I like to peruse this website just for the fun of it.
Mignon is as intelligent as she is entertaining. I highly recommend her articles to not only learn something new, but to learn the why and the history behind it. (p.s. extra credit points if you spot the split infinitive in the previous sentence.)
Once you familiarize yourself with these basics, you can start getting into the real stuff (like copy editing items written in Wingdings). Until then, friends: happy proofing!