Punctuation. How can something so small have such large consequences? Lawsuits, relationships, and business deals have fallen over the use of a single mark of punctuation. It's easy to think, "It's just a comma! What's the big deal?" But commas have cash consequences. The Oxford or serial comma is enjoying its fifteen minutes of fame since a recent court decision that awarded a group of truck drivers $10 million in overtime pay because an employment law lacked this much-maligned piece of punctuation. (For more information on the suit and the Oxford comma, see our blog post on the topic.)
But let’s say you’re not likely to get sued for millions because of a comma. Could you still be paying the price for careless punctuation? A few scenarios will demonstrate how a stray comma or apostrophe can damage your brand, diminish your credibility, and undermine your efforts to run an efficient business.
Punctuation Errors Can Damage Your BrandPerhaps part of your branding includes hosting lavish events for your treasured clients. A staffer sends out a letter to your high rollers, informing them that, “We are inviting our biggest clients, Mary Sue Morris and Eileen Acosta.” Without the serial comma, this sentence says that your biggest clients are Mary Sue and Eileen. But what if you wanted to say that you are inviting your biggest clients, and in addition, you are inviting Mary Sue and Eileen (local celebrities perhaps, whom you have hired to attend the event)?
Mary Sue and Eileen are not your clients at all, but what you wrote indicated that they were your most prestigious ones. How does this make your actual biggest clients feel when they receive this message? Probably slighted and underappreciated. How much better would it be to write, “We are inviting our biggest clients, Mary Sue Morris, and Eileen Acosta.” Your important clients are then restored to their rightful place in the firmament.
Punctuation Errors Can Diminish Your CredibilitySomeone in your office sends out an email to greet a new client. At the end, she writes, “Your welcome to stop by our office any time.” The client sees that the writer could not distinguish between your and you’re. What happens to your firm’s credibility? He might not take his business elsewhere … yet. But that small error planted a seed of doubt in the client’s mind. Doubt about whether your company is sophisticated and knowledgeable. Doubt about your commitment to making sure details are handled correctly. Doubt about the competence of your staff. He will think twice about referring others to your company and may be more easily lured to your competitor
Eventually, that simple email may lose you a client. In today’s world, how you communicate is everything. Isn’t it worth doing it right?
Punctuation Errors Can Undermine Your ProductivityJill writes to John:
The core system CMP is a casino management system that has insufficient capabilities in the areas of campaign management – i.e. inflexible campaign design (based on limited variables), difficult to segment customers based on behavior, insufficient test and control and suppression capabilities, limited support for non-gaming promotions, limited capabilities in delayering programs, inefficient operations of promotions and offers, lack of automation and scheduling capabilities, and limited channels through which we could deliver offers direct-to-customers.
After receiving this message, does John understand the limitations of the core system? Does he know how to respond? In the absence of a bulleted format, John’s eyes will probably glaze over in the middle of the sentence, and he will never grasp Jill’s message. He will probably ignore it until Jill asks for a status update, at which point she will be irritated at his inaction. In the interim, precious time has been lost, problems have gone unsolved, and tension between Jill and John has increased.
Punctuation Errors Have a Cash Cost
Multiply interactions like these with ten, a hundred, or a thousand employees, and you are looking at lost time and productivity costing millions of dollars. So don’t underestimate the importance of punctuation. Punctuation marks may be tiny, but they are a powerful part of effective communication. Make sure your employees are communicating effectively today.
©2017 Elizabeth Danziger All rights reserved
Read Writamins on these topics:Emailing Effectively
Choosing the Right Word
Thoughts on Writing
Writing Within Organizations