Punctuation Matters!

My husband brought home an unsolicited fax received at his office yesterday. It was advertising company workwear, and said:

"We always send a visual proof and will not start production. Without your approval we keep your logo on file so you can repeat order year. After year prices exclude VAT and carriage."

It took me a good five minutes to figure out what it meant. Why won't they start production after sending the proof? I think I would rather they sought my approval to keep my logo on file! So let me get this straight - tax and carriage are included for orders during the first year but not after that?

Here's what it should have said:

"We always send a visual proof and will not start production without your approval. We keep your logo on file so you can repeat order year after year. Prices exclude VAT and carriage."

Someone at this company knows about full stops and capital letters. They just have no idea where they go, and sprinkle them randomly across a paragraph, like salt, completely altering the meaning of what they have written. My seven-year-old could have done a better job.

The upshot of this is that neither I nor my husband will ever order anything from this company, because if their employees are not as literate as a primary school child, it doesn't bode well for the working relationship. How will we know if their invoicing is accurate? If I order ten t-shirts for the staff at "Nigel's Cameras" how do I know I won't get ten which say "Nigels Camera's"? (A shop in Chester really did have that problem.)

It gets old, banging on about punctuation. People hate me for correcting it. (Sometimes it's called vandalism, but hey, if the council can't find anyone among their staff who knows how to construct a sentence they deserve to have their signs attacked with permanent marker.) But the fact is it really does matter.

Here's one reason why. Let's say I decided to order from the workwear company, and I sent them £150 for 30 embroidered polo shirts. They might then come back to me and ask for a further £38.95 for the VAT and carriage charge. So I could respond to them that their original advert says "After year prices exclude VAT and carriage." I have it in writing that I don't have to pay the tax or postage on my orders within the first year. And here's the great thing - in British law you have to sell the product at the advertised price. So if they decided to take me to court for that extra £38.95, I would win.

Someone told me recently that there is such a thing as "punctuation dyslexia". Well, I Googled it, and there isn't, but punctuation is part of the problem in general dyslexia and I accept that people who struggle with reading and writing also struggle with punctuation. But if you are such a person and you work for a company, why not ask someone else to check over your work before you fax it to hundreds of local companies?

Here's a really easy way to figure out where your punctuation should go. Read your paragraph aloud the way you want it to sound. Where you pause for a breath you should put a comma. Where you drop your voice as you conclude the statement you should use a full stop. Where you raise your voice to begin a new statement, that should have a capital letter. (There's a little more to it, of course, with question marks, quotes, etc, but for the example above, this would have sufficed.)

When you send your paragraph to someone else those little marks tell them how to read your words and make them sound exactly as they did to you. That helps keep the meaning clear and the tone the way you intended. And avoids people being offended that you propose keeping their logo on file without their approval.


  1. A favorite quote I've seen circulating the Interwebs says:

    Let's eat Grandma!
    Let's eat, Grandma!

    The moral being that punctuation can save lives.


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