Updated: Jun 4
By necessity, I have learned about the value of brevity. Perhaps it was my own bad habit of never reading past the first few sentences of a long email. People just don't read long emails. Bury the lead and you risk losing your audience quickly and any chance to get your point across to your reader or listener. Finally, all my years writing articles for school newspapers in high school and college have been put to good use.
What is the best way to write sentences and express yourself in today's business world? Remember your grammar, what is the best form of punctuation #(&-;!.,)? Is it a question mark? A semicolon? Perhaps an exclamation mark or a period?
I'll give away my answer first, then explore the alternatives. From my perspective as an entrepreneur and business leader, my favorite punctuation mark is the period. The period is ubiquitous, and its grammatical usage rules are idiot-proof.
Grammar was certainly not my favorite subject in school. I nearly failed my college freshman English class due to my grammatical ineptitude and utter disdain for the poet Emily Dickinson and her love of hyphens. Luckily, I have gotten over my early writing disasters and learned to communicate effectively when writing emails, proposals, or scripts for an elevator pitch or presentation.
It's much harder to explain what your product is or pitch an investor your idea in 100 words than it is 1,000. It's much harder to write short sentences with periods and no commas. Practice and perfect this skill. It is the basic building block and punctuation for effective communications,
Now let me muddle through some punctuation alternatives. They all have their place in both written and verbal communications.
First is the venerable question mark. Questions are the currency for all good discussions. Whether it's interviewing candidates, or selling a product to a customer, you can't listen and learn what someone needs or thinks unless you ask questions. So clearly, if you voted for the "?" as your favorite, great choice.
Next, let's examine the exclamation mark. Surely other than using CAPS in a text or a tweet, the exclamation mark helps us make our point with emphasis and flair. Many people like to be demonstrative and expressive when trying to get the point across. But be careful of the power that the exclamation mark wields. Too much amplitude or emotion and the folks reading or listening to you are likely to tune you out.
The hashtag. Okay, I know that the hashtag is not a proper type of punctuation. But I use it as a symbol for the digital shorthand style that many of us have adopted for both personal and business communications. It's representative of a less formal, choppy, unstructured type of writing filled with acronyms and incomplete sentences. In my opinion, it has no place in the business world and is symptomatic of the shortcuts that are the anathema of effective communication.
Next is, the poor, misunderstood comma. Of all the punctuation marks in English, this one is perhaps the most abused and misused. It is no wonder, there are lots of rules about comma usage, and often the factors that determine whether you should use one are quite subtle. Therein lies the problem. A comma lets you separate words, clauses, or ideas. It allows you to build complex sentences and make them readable. We need commas, but the net result is the comma leads to longer sentences and more complex forms of communication that are harder to digest.
Finally, back to the clean, symmetrical, easy to use period. The winner. Of course, every sentence must end with a period. But the art of effective communication, either written or spoken, is to determine what message you are trying to convey. That is the point you are trying to make. It is the endpoint. The period.