One of the constants of life in marketing and public relations is editing. We write and edit each others work and we edit communications from clients on a regular basis. The most common punctuation mistake I edit is the use of dashes, so I thought I'd share a quick refresher, because all dashes are not created equal.
My major observation is that people tend to overuse one dash, the en dash (–), when the em dash (—) is the grammatically correct choice. The other error is that the hyphen (-), which is found on your keyboard is commonly used in lieu of the en dash. The en and em dash hide in the tool bar, which would make them easy to forget.
In Microsoft Word for Mac, you can find it by selecting "Insert>Symbol".
I've drawn on http://www.grammarbook.com/punctuation/dashes.asp to help articulate the differences.
From Grammar Book:
An en dash, roughly the width of an n, is a little longer than a hyphen. It is used for periods of time when you might otherwise use to.
The years 2001–2003
An en dash is also used in place of a hyphen when combining open compounds.
North Carolina–Virginia border
a high school–college conference
** Check your open compounds! The addition of an en dash or hyphen is a regular edit from me.
Most authorities recommend using no spaces before or after en or em dashes.
** I see this often too. See below for examples.
An em dash is the width of an m. Use an em dash sparingly in formal writing. In informal writing, em dashes may replace commas, semicolons, colons, and parentheses to indicate added emphasis, an interruption, or an abrupt change of thought.
You are the friend—the only friend—who offered to help me.
Never have I met such a lovely person—before you.
I pay the bills—she has all the fun.
A semicolon would be used here in formal writing.
I need three items at the store—dog food, vegetarian chili, and cheddar cheese.
Remember, a colon would be used here in formal writing.
My agreement with Fiona is clear—she teaches me French and I teach her German.
Again, a colon would work here in formal writing.
Please call my agent—Jessica Cohen—about hiring me.
Parentheses or commas would work just fine here instead of the dashes.
I wish you would—oh, never mind.
This shows an abrupt change in thought and warrants an em dash.
So, there you have it—en dash vs. em dash (and as opposed to the hyphen).
Happy writting and I hope a dash or two fewer in the tracked changes from your editor:)
I literally cannot believe this.
As all of you grammar Nazis cringe reading that first sentence – just wait.
According to CNN, the definition of literally is no longer the literal definition of literally. (Say that three times fast.)
Apparently Google, Merriam-Webster and Cambridge have all gotten on board with adding the informal definition of literally to their dictionaries. Previously, the definition had been limited to “In a literal manner or sense; exactly: The driver took it literally when asked to go straight over the traffic circle.”
Now, to the chagrin of my former (and current) English teachers, that definition has been expanded to include: “used to acknowledge that something is not literally true but is used for emphasis or to express strong feelings.”
A quick office poll I conducted showed that most people were not pleased with this change (granted – we are an office of grammar nerds). I, for one, can admit that I have used the word incorrectly on occasion, but at least I realize I am using it wrongly – so that counts for something, right? Given that, I am not exactly sure where I stand on the change.
On the one hand, the dictionary doesn’t consist of some elderly board that rules with an iron-fist over the English language. Changes to languages do naturally occur, and they should be reflected and documented. And there are far worse words or definitions to have been included (bootylicious anyone?).
However, actively diluting the use of long-established words for the sake of people who have been constantly misusing them doesn’t set much of a precedent for properly using grammar.
So Sounding Board readers – what are your thoughts? Are we literally killing the English language right now?
Last month SalesForce put together an infographic on what the perfect Facebook post looks like (see it larger here). It got me thinking about how companies interact with fans on Facebook and how some leave completely different impressions.
If the point of brands posting on Facebook is to CONNECT with their customers and prospects, why do so many posts come off as forced? For the most part, it seems like some brands have a message to get out and that’s all that they think about.
When we post status updates for ourselves, we go through an internal process of deciding what is appropriate to post – or at least we should! We think about what our friends will like, comment on, be interested in, or find funny before we take a status update live. So why don’t we do that with brands? SalesForce’s blueprint is designed to help brands engage with the audience rather than talk ‘at’ them.
PR Daily recently published a blog post on How To Write for Facebook that outlines eight steps to think through before posting for a brand. For me, there are three things everyone should think through before they post for a brand:
- Think about the action – What do you want your audience to do? How do you realistically get them to do it? Do you need to offer an incentive for a bigger action like downloads? Or are you just trying to write something that will receive likes and shares? Make sure you tailor your content to the outcome you’re trying to achieve.
- Make it easy – Tell the audience exactly how to participate in your contest, download your app or post photos to your page. If it seems too hard, it won’t happen.
- Forget your content plan – Well, don’t forget it completely… Understandably, you have a message to get out but make sure to mix those brand support messages in with more lighthearted engaging posts. No one wants to follow a brand that is basically using his or her news feed as an advertising platform. Think about your target market and post other relevant content that they may find interesting.
And last but not least, I firmly believe this to be the golden rule for all online conversation: Use proper grammar, spelling and punctuation! When representing a brand it is imperative to use the correct version of a word (you’re/your) and to use fully spelled-out words (though/tho).
Any other rules you all follow when posting on Facebook?
Also, if you’re interested in more info on content and inbound marketing, attend our webinar on August 29th. SBX CEO, Elizabeth Shea will be hosting a webinar on inbound marketing with special guests Matt Howard, CEO of ZoomSafer and DP Venkatesh, CEO of mPortal.
I saw a status update this morning from a friend on Facebook and in the comments someone linked to what I personally think is an amazing website.
While I have my occasional struggles with grammar and using the right word at the right time, and I have written about this before, I thought it was a topic worth revisiting.
As John points out here and here and Ali points out here, content is incredibly important. But, the quality of that content is equally important. Whether you are writing an authored article, giving a presentation or working on closing a sales lead, using the right word or phrase at the right time is of the utmost importance.
Below are a few of my favorite slip-ups, and a link to explain the correct usage better than I could. (It also comes in book form so if you know someone who is a real word nerd consider adding this to your holiday shopping list – it’s never too early to get started!).
And while not on the list of Common Errors in English Usage, here are two of my other favorites:
Inconceivable and Plethora.
So which words/phrases do you mix up?