Punctuate properly – the five killer mistakes

Do you have to write formally sometimes? Maybe send out a resume or a business letter?

If so, you need to make sure that you don’t make any of the common mistakes that let people down and create a poor impression. At the same time, most mistakes are simple and easy to correct – you certainly don’t need an expensive writing course to eliminate the most common mistakes.The five killer mistakes to avoid are these.

Killer mistake 1: Capitalisation

You need to capitalize the first word in every sentence. You need a capital letter when using people’s names (John Smith), or the names of towns, countries, companies, pets – or anything with a name. (So, for example, New York, England, Amazon, Fluffy.)

You should not capitalize any other words even if you are talking about Important Topics like Online Sales Skills. Using capital letters in those contexts is grammatically wrong. You just don’t need to do it.

Killer mistake 2: Periods.

The period is the little dot that comes at the end of every sentence. You know when you’ve completed a sentence because you have completed a unit of thought and (if you care to be fancy about it) you probably have a subject, verb and object. But you don’t need to worry about those niceties. The main thing is that you use periods. If the thought seems to have come to a close, use a period, then start with the next thing.

And if you want to see how important those periods are, try looking at the snippet below with commas instead of periods:

The period is the little dot that comes at the end of every sentence, you know when you’ve completed a sentence because you have completed a unit of thought and (if you care to be fancy about it) you probably have a subject, verb and object, but you don’t need to worry about those niceties, the main thing is that you use periods, if the thought seems to have come to a close, use a period, then start with the next thing.

Do you see how horrible that is? How unclear and hard to read? So just pop those periods regularly in the course of your writing. Too often is much better than too little (the more common issue).

Killer mistake 3: Paragraphs

Paragraphs are these little blocks of sentences, where a line break separates each block. There’s no hard and fast rule about where to end one paragraph and start another – but you can feel that your text is much easier to read if it’s broken up a little. Just put the breaks in where you are shifting topics slightly and your work will instantly be easier to read and more professional.

Killer mistake 4: those darn apostrophes

This is the mistake that gets readers really riled – but it’s so easy to fix.

It’s means it is.

Its means the thing belonging to it. So if you’re talking about fixing up a car, you might say its engine needs attention.

All you need to do is check whenever you want to use the word “it’s” or “its”. Can you replace that word by “It is”? If so, then use it’s. Otherwise, use its. Simple, huh?

Killer mistake 5: overusing punctuation

Some people over-use punctuation as though they’re desperate to prove they’ve been on every writing course going – when in fact they prove the opposite. You probably don’t need to use hyphens very much (“-”). You almost certainly won’t need to use the ellipsis (“…”) at all. (But if you do, only three dots please!) And you should really only use colons (“:”) and semi-colons if you really know what you’re doing (“;”). Truth is, if you’re OK with what we’ve covered in this article, you’ll already know most of what you need to know.

  • K. Campbell

    But where would movie and political advertising be without ellipsis? I don’t need context, do you?

    And yes, I know about the “but.” Wait! I just hit on one of my pet punctuation peeves: All punctuation goes within the quotation marks. And here’s another: After a colon, do you start the following sentence with a capital letter?