Thank you, Boston Women in Finance, for your feedback on my writing workshop

Boston Women in Finance gave me great feedback on my workshop “How to Write What People Will Read About Investments.” Before I share some their feedback with you, I’d like to thank all of the participants. Your energetic participation made it a very enjoyable workshop for me, too.

Here are some participant comments.

  •  “A very practical workshop! You’ll get tips you’ll use as soon as you return to the office.
  • “I truly learned a lot from this presentation. It was refreshing to have someone break down how to best reach people and to say it’s okay to write in simple short sentences.”
  • “It’s always good to hear these reminders to get you back to the basics of effective writing. This seminar was a great way to refocus.”
  • “The mapping technique was helpful. I will use this for brainstorming and helping with project plans and meetings.”
  • “Susan’s ‘how to’ approach packed dozens of indispensable tips into 1 1/2 hours. Incredible!”
  • “I believe the mapping exercise will help me organize my thoughts and overcome writer’s block and get past the first blank page or screen.”

Some of you said that you would prefer “More time; more opportunity for individual exercises.” I’m interested in creating longer, customized training sessions for corporate clients that would allow more interaction. I’m also for hire to present the one-and-one-half hour version I delivered to Boston Women in Finance.

Six ways to stop sending emails with errors

Everybody sends occasional emails with typos and punctuation mistakes. But some emails are more important than others. When you want to make your email perfect, follow these rules. 

1. Print out your email.
Somehow it’s easier to see errors on paper. 

2. Read it out loud.
This is good for catching missing words that your mind might otherwise fill in.Otherwise, you often see what you expect to see.

3. Get someone else to proofread it.
It’s easier for a third party to catch your errors. 

4. Let it sit overnight.
When you read with fresh eyes, you’re more likely to catch errors. 

5. Use a spell-checking program.
If your email program doesn’t support spell-checking, copy the email into your word-processing program, so you can check it there. However, remember that spell-checkers aren’t foolproof. 

6. Create a checklist of common errors.

Using a checklist makes you slow down and, so you’re more likely to catch the errors highlighted on the checklist. For example, let’s say you’re confused about “How to punctuate bullet-pointed lists.” Add to your checklist: “check bullet point punctuation rules” with a link to the rules. 

Have you got other suggestions for keeping emails error-free? Please share them in the Comments section.

Proper usage of periods: One space or two?

As a dinosaur who wrote the first chapters of her Ph.D. dissertation on a manual typewriter, I grew up leaving two spaces after every period. But times have changed, and today I leave only one space between a period and the new sentence that follows it.

The two spaces made sense when we used typewriters with monospacing, as Grammar Girl explains in “How many spaces after a period?” But now that we’ve switched to proportional fonts, one space has become the standard.

If you feel passionately that we should use two spaces, you’ve got company, as you’ll see in “How Many Spaces After a Period: One or Two?

More posts about punctuation:
* How to punctuate bullet-pointed lists
* Bloggers’ top two punctuation mistakes

Image courtesy of Just2shutter at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

How to punctuate bullet-pointed lists

Have you ever used a bullet-pointed list in a memo, report or PowerPoint presentation? Are you punctuating your lists correctly? Or maybe you’re not as compulsive as I am about these picky points.

Anyway, here’s what one reference book, The Grammar Bible, says:

If a sentence follows the bullet, place a period at the end. Words and phrases that follow bullets need no ending punctuation. It is never necessary to place the conjunction and before the last item in a bulleted list.

Examples

Wrong

The following asset classes are used:

  • Large-cap equities,
  • Small-cap equities, and
  • U.S. Treasuries

Right

The following asset classes are used:

  • Large-cap equities
  • Small-cap equities
  • U.S. Treasuries

Does this make sense? If it doesn’t, then post a comment with a sample bullet pointed-list. I’ll give you my suggestion on how to punctuate it.

 

 

Note: This post was revised for a grammar mistake on August 29, 2012, and expanded on May 26, 2014.

Image courtesy of adamr at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Bloggers’ top two punctuation mistakes

“Financial blogging has it’s challenges”, said the copywriter. 

If you identified the errors in the sentence above, you probably aren’t making bloggers’ two most common punctuation mistakes. These mistakes aren’t confined to blogs. I see them in every kind of financial and personal communication. 

It’s vs. its

“It’s” is a whopping exception to the rule that you form the possessive by adding an apostrophe and the letter s.

“The performance of the mutual fund” becomes “the mutual fund’s performance,” but “the performance of it” becomes “its performance,” with no apostrophe.

“Apostrophes should not be used with possessive pronouns because possessive pronouns already show possession,” as explained by the Online Writing Center at Purdue University. So don’t add an apostrophe to “yours,” “ours,” “his,” “hers,” or “theirs.”

Remember: “it’s” always means “it is.”
 
Quotation marks and misplaced punctuation
Punctuation generally belongs inside the closing quotation mark. So my opening sentence should be punctuated like this: “Financial blogging has its challenges,” said the copywriter. 

The Associated Press Stylebook puts the rules like this:
1. “The period and the comma always go within the quotation marks.”
2. “The dash, the semicolon, the question mark and the exclamation point go within the quotation marks when they apply to the quoted matter only. They go outside when they apply to the whole sentence.”
The Stylebook is talking about punctuation at the end, not the beginning, of a quotation.

However, if you’re writing for a British or Canadian audience rather than a U.S. audience, punctuation goes outside the quotation marks. Grammar Girl says, “Printers found that the periods and commas were more stable when they were placed inside closing quotation marks, so that’s the way they started doing it,” according to “Why are British English and American English different?” Grammar Girl seems to agree with my friend who thinks the British practice is more logical. Still, punctuation-conscious Americans wince when you flout the American way. 

The bottom line
Earlier this year I asked my newsletter readers “Do grammar or punctuation errors affect the writer’s credibility in your eyes?”

Results:
0%   No, I don’t notice errors
2%   No, I don’t care
22%  Yes, but I forgive small errors, especially in social networking posts
75%  Yes, it generally hurts my opinion

Only 2% of respondents answered “No.” That sends a strong message about the impact that errors have on your readers.

So, please

  • Distinguish between “it’s” and “its.”
  • Always put your commas and periods inside your closing quotation marks.

 

Do you have a question about these punctuation practices? Ask it in the comments below.
 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Do your grammar and punctuation affect your credibility?

I believe that bad grammar and punctuation sabotage the credibility of the writer.  The same goes for the company that the writer represents.

For me, bad grammar and punctuation suggest a lack of education and attention to detail. I wonder if the writer’s professional work displays similar weaknesses. Plus, I’m annoyed if poor writing makes me work harder to grasp the point the writer was trying to convey.

Marketing materials–especially long-lived forms such as websites and brochures–should hit high standards to put the firm’s best foot forward.

I’m more forgiving of typos in quickly created, ephemeral communications, such as tweets on Twitter. I’m guilty of typos there and on my blog.

What about you? Does bad grammar and punctuation detract from your opinion of writers and their companies? 
Please answer the poll in the right-hand column of my blog. Also, feel free to leave your comment below.

I’ll report on the poll results in a future issue of my newsletter. The poll will run until June 2009.

 

Jan. 20, 2013 note: I updated the title of this post after an anonymous commenter pointed out my grammatical mistake.