“Even when the sense is perfectly clear, a sentence may be deprived of half its force — its spirit — its point — by improper punctuation.”
Edgar Allan Poe
Wage war on stores which flout the conventions of punctuation, for they bombard young eyes with low standards.
WH Smith, a stationer, sells childrens birthday cards, seemingly unaware of the plural of ‘child’. It is not alone in its ignorance of apostrophes, which baffle far too many business writers. Their function is simple — to highlight omitted letters (wouldn’t, it’s, don’t) or show the possessive (Paul’s pedantry).
Omitting apostrophes when needed is a crime matched only by their unnecessary inclusion. Some people appear possessed of the urge to insert an apostrophe every time they chance upon the letter ‘s’. Frankly, these people are idiot’s (see!).
Commas should cause fewer problems — but do. A common error is cloaking job titles around commas without reason. The rule is simple: if commas act as parentheses, include them. If not, don’t.
So: ‘Managing director, Freddie Axeman, doubled his pay last year’ is incorrect. The sentence doesn’t make sense without the words between the commas, so the commas are unnecessary.
Arguably the biggest punctuation sin in business writing is the Use of Capital Letters in the Middle of Sentences. It’s bizarre. Why do some many writers insist that a Company should have initial capitals and that the Board should be revered in the same way? Company and board are nouns and should be treated as such.