Articles Tagged with punctuation

What difference does a single letter make?

I’m surprised that people continue to argue about the need for correct spelling, grammar and punctuation. If you’re in any doubt, try working as a proofreader.

We regularly proofread material produced by companies, councils, universities, schools and other organisations, and frequently grind to a halt because we can’t understand something.

In novels or poems, writers sometimes aim to entertain through using language that is a challenge to understand. This is not the case for companies or organisations dealing with customers who need information fast and in an easy-to-understand format.

So when you read a brochure or letter where you have to stop, go back and re-read a sentence three times to figure out what the writer is trying to say, you know that something needs changing. Perhaps there’s a word missing, a plural noun with a singular verb or three sentences crammed together in one.

Rather than being there to annoy us, spelling, grammar and punctuation aim to make text easier to read and understand. They can also make reading and writing more enjoyable and more effective, especially for companies producing marketing material to sell their products and services.

Accuracy is also very important. Would it matter to you if you published an advert with one wrong digit in the postcode? Would it make any difference if a newspaper published the wrong date for an event you were holding? (This happened to me recently – it was the newspaper’s mistake.)

If we use the language tools available to us to make our material as easy to understand as possible and we check all details to make sure our material facts are correct, we do all we can to help our communications achieve the best results for business.

After our last blog, have you decided how well print and digital communications work for you?

z2zine tomorrow: What is there say about my business?

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How to work with a proofreader

The client, a business, called to ask how much it would cost to proofread their client magazine. We asked for a word count and a possible sample of the text. Seeing a sample gives us an idea of how much work is involved. Poorly written material can take two or three times longer to proofread than good writing, as much of the time is spent figuring out what the author really means and how it should be amended or whether it needs more advanced editing.

Having agreed the price, dates are set for when the draft magazine will be available and when the annotated text needs to be returned to the client.

The text arrives as a PDF on the agreed date and we proofread it, checking spelling, grammar and punctuation, seeing that it makes sense, marking up inconsistencies and generally making sure it is all fine. We mark up the PDF with electronic notes in Adobe Acrobat.

When completed, we email back the PDF so that the client can read the annotations on the PDF using Adobe Acrobat Reader.

The client is very pleased. It’s all gone smoothly and the magazine will go to print free from error.

That’s how proofreading works – more details at

Their, there, they’re!

Their or there or they’re?

They sound and look similar, but their meanings are different, so how do you know which one to use?

Their (adjective) means belonging to them.

There (adverb) means in or at a place.

They’re (verb) is a shortened version of “they are”.

So you could say, “They’re putting their things over there.”

For spelling, grammar and punctuation tips and advice on copywriting, editing and proofreading, please visit our blog regularly.

Squeezed by Yoof ‘n Shakespeare

Today, when giving a presentation to a group of business people on the topic of copywriting, I was asked how I balanced the desire to write ‘standard English’ with the more casual style of English usage that is developing.

I replied that whatever anyone writes has to sound natural to the intended audience, otherwise they will not accept it. To force what I perceive as correct grammar or punctuation on someone who takes a different view would be as ludicrous as writing in a Shakespearian style for a modern business audience (not that I would ever claim to be in the same league as Shakespeare).

So style has to adapt to suit the audience, and I find there are some styles, especially some of those aimed at youth markets, in which I would not be happy writing. I don’t say they are necessarily wrong, but they are not my cup of tea and I’m not sure I would be that good at writing in these styles.

Is this a problem? I don’t see it as one and I believe it adds to the variety of the English language. If there are lots of writers writing in lots of different styles, that must be a good thing.

Robert Zarywacz

The question of rules in communication

Recently, I have read a lot about whether we should worry about how we communicate, especially when publishing material online. Does it matter if we don’t use capitals when we should or we spell words incorrectly or mangle our grammar?

I think it does.

Why? Well, over the past few weeks I’ve been proofreading some rather large documents and on a number of occasions have had to stop and re-read passages to try and figure out what the author was trying to say. Often, the solution is to add or take out a comma or other punctuation mark, which clarifies the meaning. The wrong punctuation in the wrong place or no punctuation can dramatically alter the meaning.

Punctuation acts like road signs. A road sign tells you to turn left and not pull into a stream of traffic speeding towards you. A road sign tells you to slow down if there is a hazard ahead. A road sign tells you to change into a lower gear if you are travelling down a steep hill. Punctuation plays a similar role by directing you to the intended meaning.

Is it worth bothering about? I think it is.

But what about spoken English? If we don’t want people to continually say “what?” every time we say something, correct grammar and language are very useful. People understand what we mean to say the first time and don’t keep having to ask us to explain ourselves again and again.

The added bonus is that these tools also make our language beautiful to hear and read, but – putting that aside – they enable us to communicate quickly and clearly, and then get on with something else. They are invaluable tools.

Robert Zarywacz

Comprise or comprise of?

When do you append ‘of’ to the verb ‘comprise’?

Comprise means to include or to consist of. Of is added when the verb is used passively (eg something is comprised of something else). When used actively, do not use ‘of’. See following example.

If you want to write about the composition of a committee, you could write either:

“The committee comprises four managers, three members of staff and two customers.”


“The committee is comprised of four managers, three members of staff and two customers.”

You should not write: “The committee comprises of four managers, three members of staff and two customers.”

Robert Zarywacz

For spelling, grammar and punctuation tips and advice on copywriting, editing and proofreading, please visit our blog regularly.

When the committee writes a document . . .

. . . the result is often a variety of inconsistent spellings, grammar and punctuation. The same phrase can be written three different ways on the same page, sometimes with capitals, sometimes without. Hyphens pop up in words here and there, but not always. Generally, it’s a mess.

That’s why it’s a good idea to have an editor in overall charge of the document to set a policy on usage. If you have a formal written house style, that’s even better. You can give this to the authors before they start writing and can prevent these annoying inconsistencies from the start.

An independent proofreader can pick up many of these inconsistencies at the end, but it’s much better to prevent them in the first place so you don’t receive a PDF with hundreds of annotated comments or a Word file with hundreds of tracked changes for you to approve.

A formal house style can also improve your employees’ writing style by making them think about what they are writing.

Robert Zarywacz

Who needs structure?

‘Wilfing’, apparently, is the term that describes aimlessly surfing the web after forgetting what you were originally looking for and wasting hours online achieving nothing – ‘What Was I Looking For?’

One of the reasons why people get sidetracked online is that they are presented with so much information: too much to handle.

It is also one of the reasons why structure and format are important when communicating, and why rules, such as those for grammar, punctuation and spelling, have developed. Within the guidelines of these rules, it is actually easier to communicate than if there were no guidelines.

But don’t rules restrict you? Yes and no.

Unfortunately, in an age when the idea of rebellion against any form of authority or rules is so popular, it is easy to forget that these do have a useful purpose. Yet all rules should be interpreted carefully. If you follow rules blindly, they can be very restricting, but if you follow the spirit of rules and use common sense, they can help you. And rules need to be amended to keep up with changes and remain relevant.

If there were more structure and self-discipline in communication, if people edited their communications more and made them more relevant to their audience, perhaps it would be easier to find the information we need rather than be confronted with so much of the rubbish that is currently created.

Perhaps this would also help to reduce WILFing.

Robert Zarywacz

The dependent dependant

Dependent or dependant?

They sound and look similar, but their meanings are different, so how do you know which one to use?

A dependant (noun) is a person who depends on someone else for support.

Dependent (adjective) describes a person or thing depending on someone/something else or unable to function without the thing it depends on.

The difference between the a and the e is an important one.

However, in the US both the noun and adjective can be written with the a, so make sure you use the right version for the right audience.

Robert Zarywacz

For spelling, grammar and punctuation tips and advice on copywriting, editing and proofreading, please visit our z2zine blog regularly.

Don’t punctuate just in case you need to

Often I find that some writers create confusion among their readers by introducing unnecessary punctuation into their writing.

Why do people add incorrect apostrophes when writing about the 1960’s or PC’s, when 1960s and PCs are not only correct, but much simpler?

Perhaps it is because they are unsure of when and where to use an apostrophe and think it safer to insert one just in case it is needed?

If you’re not confident about using a certain aspect of punctuation, either read up about it in a reference book or on the web – there are many online resources – or rewrite your text so that you do not have to use it. In the longer term, it’s better to try to understand it so that you have the confidence to use it correctly in the future.

What do you do if you find there are two schools of thought on the point in question? That can be more difficult and you will have to decide which side you agree with. One way to help decide is to see how writers you respect handle this element of punctuation. Do you agree with them?

It’s not always simple, but trying to write well is worth the effort.

Robert Zarywacz

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