Insights about “writing”

9 / 24 / 2015

National Punctuation Day. Or, that thing no one cares about until it costs them a lot of money.

blog-9.24.15Today is National Punctuation Day. In its possessive honor, here are some thoughts on how we use punctuation. Some of you may disagree. That’s. Too. Bad.

Punctuation is used for two reasons.

The first: it adds clarity. There are lots of examples of this. My personal favorite can be found on tee shirts and memes all over the Internet: “Let’s eat, grandma!” VS “Let’s eat grandma!” Hopefully you are having grandma as a dinner guest and not as the main course. But to each their own, I suppose.

Another great example is the million-dollar comma, in which a legal contract was upheld for one party, who pointed out they had the right to withdraw from the deal with a year of written notice. The contract states that the agreement “shall continue in force for a period of five years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.” The company that issued the contract thought they were guaranteeing a five-year deal, but by including that second comma, the phrase in the middle became an additional piece of information, and allowed the contract terms to essentially read as: “shall continue in force for a period of five years from the date it is made, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.”

But that isn’t the only reason punctuation is used. It also creates pacing. This is where style guides (and all those rules I just pointed out as important) go out the window. It’s why I write a sentence, read it aloud… and then see if it makes sense as I read it. Think of periods as a long pause between sentences, commas as a quick pause, hyphens as a pause that’s somewhere between… and ellipses as a hold-your-breath moment.

Let’s try it out!
This article is interesting and informative.
This article is interesting, and informative.
This article is interesting—and informative.

Someone who follows the “rules” about “where” you can use “punctuation” will tell you the first instance is correct, because the others are unnecessary (just like the quotations in this sentence). But sometimes you have to break the rules—whether for pacing, humor or humanity. They’re all correct. So. Is. This. Get it? Of course you do, because you read how you talk and you talk how you feel and you feel great because you’re learning how to break rules.

Now I know all of that sounds contradictory, and that’s because it is. But that’s the best part about English as a subject matter. It’s not like a math or a science that has proofs and formulas and evidence. It’s an art. And as long as you can defend yourself, you can do whatever you want.

Also, stop double-spacing after periods. That’s not an art. That’s never okay. Don’t do that anymore. STOP IT.

The views expressed by this employee blogger are not necessarily the views of Borshoff, Inc.

9 / 03 / 2014

Check your Ps and Qs: The importance of proofreading

proofreading-blogI recently encountered a print ad that was clever and engaging. I read the full text because it was about a product I might be interested in purchasing. But when I got to the line that it “provide’s quality ingredients,” my interest quickly waned.

The work you publish, whether it’s as simple as a single email or as widespread as a national ad (or a national currency) is a very visible extension of you or your company’s brand. Spelling and grammar mistakes lower your credibility and authority in what should be your area of expertise.

And if you’re in the job market, be especially careful with your cover letters, résumé, LinkedIn profile and thank you notes. If you’re not putting the extra effort into proofreading something that markets you, how much effort would you put into marketing a company’s services or products?

Here are six proofreading tips to help ensure you put your best foot forward.

  1. When you’re done writing a piece, set it aside for as long as you can before proofreading. Coming back with “fresh eyes” will make mistakes more obvious. If your deadline doesn’t allow for this, ask someone new to the material to read it over.
  2. Read the text several times—even aloud—focusing on spelling, grammar, punctuation and message individually in each pass.
  3. Read the text backwards. Because the grammar and content won’t make sense, your brain is more focused on spelling. You will be less likely to begin skimming the familiar text.
  4. Make sure you know what style guide to follow, whether it’s a third-party guide (like AP or CMS) or your organization’s internal version.
  5. Maintain a conventions list that shows the proper spelling, capitalization and other specifics for terms that are common to your organization, client or project – or for anything that deviates from the preferred style guide.
  6. Maintain a list of your common mistakes (hey, admitting you’ve got a problem is the first step to recovery) and refer to it often until you internalize those rules.

If impeccable writing is core to your business, formalize the process. At Borshoff, our signoff system includes multiple proofreading checkpoints with staff from different experience levels and different departments to ensure we cover all the bases. Our signoff form includes a list of things we’ve learned the hard way (double check all URLs and phone numbers!) to avoid making a mistake twice.

Take pride in your work and make it the best you can—you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

The views expressed by this employee blogger are not necessarily the views of Borshoff, Inc.

1 / 05 / 2012

Lost in translation

I was at my parents’ home last month for Christmas and I went through a stack of 40 or 50 holiday cards they had received. Their stack was vastly different than the collection at my home.

It was interesting to see how many of their friends and family actually wrote something in their card. How novel I thought. Who would send a Christmas card that wasn’t just a glossy photo of their family on a beach? Not only did the senders write something, they wrote in cursive. A skill I barely possess.


The views expressed by this employee blogger are not necessarily the views of Borshoff, Inc.

8 / 26 / 2011

Ghostwritten op-eds: truth or deception?

By Susan Matthews, APR, principal

Dan Gillmor, an editor at The Guardian, argues that the ghostwritten op-ed is “an unacceptable deception.” I beg to differ.

If you follow two simple rules, there is no deception.

  • The ideas must be the ideas of the person whose byline appears.
  • The person whose byline appears must review and approve – completely own – the content of the op-ed.

That said, sometimes the actual writing is best left to professional writers. When? When the bylined author does not have time to craft a clear, persuasive piece. Or, when writing is not the opinion leader’s strength.

To me, it’s that simple.

The views expressed by this employee blogger are not necessarily the views of Borshoff, Inc.

10 / 12 / 2010

Borshoff celebrates Indiana Authors Award – the write stuff!

By Bob Schultz, APR, senior account director

I love to write, which is good because public relations, marketing and advertising requires outstanding writing. It’s what we do – and although we seldom get awards for our writing, it is incredibly rewarding. Yet some folks DO get awarded for outstanding writing – and Borshoff is proud to be a part of telling their stories.

This weekend, the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library Foundation, which we were honored to represent, hosted its 2010 Eugene & Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award and recognized some talented and fascinating individuals.


The views expressed by this employee blogger are not necessarily the views of Borshoff, Inc.

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