Aging Tech

How to Write for the Web: Grammar and Punctuation

Academic Writing: Burning Topics

Punctuation can be boring…

A successful web writer knows how to control the reader’s emotions using a variety of interesting punctuation–correctly.

The punctuation that you choose sets the rhythm, the tone and the mood of the experience that you want your reader to have. Yet, many writers with potentially great articles don’t take advantage of this, using only the bare minimum of the punctuation resources available to them. The under-use of varied punctuation can cause the entire article to be dull–even if the reader doesn’t quite know why.

Certainly any article can be written using only a comma, a period and the occasional question mark: But what fun is that!

Punctuation can be annoying…

Just as under punctuating an article can render it dull, the improper use or the over-use of punctuation can cause the same article to be annoying (And make the writer look like an idiot).

Run-on sentences leave the reader exasperated, while superfluous commas, sentence chops, incomplete sentences and the wrong punctuation mark can leave the reader feeling confused. A successful web writer knows how to use a variety of punctuation marks to create the desired flow for his or her reader.

Use a role model

Find a writer that captivates you with their writing. Watch how he or she uses his or her punctuation and copy that style for yourself (Much like a child mimics their favorite sport or movie star, teacher, sibling or parent). You are not trying to copy their content–that’s plagiarism, and it can get you into a whole lot of trouble. You want to integrate their style into your own.

Undeniably, the greatest punctuation master of all time is Sharon Waxman (Award winning NYT Journalist, WAPO Journalist, author of the best selling books ‘Loot’ and ‘Rebels on the Backlot,’ author of the blog – Waxword, guest journalist for HuffPo, and the founder of the award winning Hollywood magazine, theWrap). Few people have enjoyed her success, which is due (In part) to her mastery of creative punctuation style.

Waxman does more than tell an interesting story (By choosing the right content). She sets the mood of the story, by creating rhythm with her language, grammar and punctuation. She defines difficult terms (By using parenthesis), and drives her point home in an easy to read, non-condescending, informative style.

Sharon Waxman is a pros’ pro and I am not ashamed to admit that I study her style on a daily basis for content (Why she chooses the articles she writes), language (The words she chooses to convey her thoughts to the reader), and punctuation (How she controls the flow).

Find a successful writer that captivates you and study them. Watch how they move through the story with their punctuation, and then, integrate that style into your own.

Grammar and punctuation is a dance…

The words are the music, the punctuation is the action–together they set the rhythm, the tone and the flow of your show. The use of interesting punctuation with the right word, in the right moment, tells your reader whether he or she is doing the Waltz, the Cha Cha, the Salsa, the Charleston, the Tango or any number of combinations within the same piece.

You can make your reader feel happy and at ease by using a simple sentence structure. Or, you can push your reader to the limits of their experience–leaving them breathless and exhausted, with a more complex grammatical design, by injecting a variety-of-symbols that keep them hooked to a single thought — relentlessly — to drive your point home: Accomplish this with the creative use of punctuation symbols, such as the comma (,), the hyphen (-), the en dash (–), the em dash (—), single quotes (‘), double quotes (“), the semicolon (;), the colon (:), the exclamation point (!), the question mark (?), Parenthesis (), the apostrophe (‘), ellipsis points (…), and of course, the trusted old period (.).

Notice how the previous paragraph moved you from a short, happy, easy-to-read sentence with a clear stop (kind of like a Line Dance), through a longer striding flow (More like a Waltz), and ended with short bouncy pauses that kept on moving until the thought was completed (Rather like the Swing or the Bunny Hop)…

Be careful though. While doing the punctuation dance in print is highly effective, you still want to keep the article on the web short, crisp and easy to read in order to maintain your reader’s attention. If a person has to think too hard about what you are trying to say, they will move on to another site that doesn’t. Spice up your article with punctuation, but more importantly, keep it flowing.

The less advisable symbols for web writing are the ampersand ( amp;) and the asterisk (*). Rather than create flow, these tend to clog the movement and can be distracting to the reader. Unless you are talking about a business partnership like Humphreys amp; Gable, or are denoting a footnote to the reader*, steer clear of these two symbols.

The Comma

The comma is the most abused of all of the punctuation symbols; perhaps, because it is the symbol with the most rules and exceptions.

A comma is most often used to separate items within a series: Nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, phrases and clauses.

It can also be used to indicate missing words, create a short pause, or to replace a conjunction.

Wrong:

A comma should never, be used to join two incomplete sentences.

Correction:

A comma should never be used to join two incomplete sentences.

The Yahoo! Style Guide outlines each of these symbols, in an easy to understand format that defines how to effectively use punctuation for web writing.