“The writer who neglects punctuation, or mispunctuates, is liable to be misunderstood for the want of merely a comma.”
Edgar Allan Poe
Strong communication skills are important in both professional and personal relationships. (Ask any married couple.)
In spoken communication different intonations of the voice can convey the meaning of what is said.
However, non-verbal communications must rely on the way a message is punctuated to help achieve that goal.
Punctuation is a powerful tool in preventing misunderstandings between the sender of the message, and its receiver. It does this by joining or separating ideas in a meaningful way (Poley & Crocker, 2005, p.149).
Just as good punctuation can improve the readability of a written message, incorrect punctuation can distort the way a message is perceived.
Notice how the addition of a comma changes the meaning of the following sentence.
“Let’s eat Grandma!” (Run, Grandma!)
“Let’s eat, Grandma!”
Or consider the confusion caused when an advertisement to buy a bedside table includes an unnecessary hyphen,
Wanted: One-night stand
Cenere, Gill, Lawson & Lewis point out that “Mistakes in spelling, grammar and punctuation are enemies for the professional communicator”, as they create barriers to effective communication (2015, pp.60-61). These barriers are known as “noise”.
An example of this is shown in the following:
This initial workshop identified the work scopes and phasing generated several different sourcing strategies for those work scopes and proposed selection criteria to compare the sourcing strategies to best benefit the [project].
The lack of commas in the first sentence creates noise, and makes the message difficult for the receiver to read and interpret.
This initial workshop identified the work scopes and phasing, generated several different sourcing strategies for those work scopes, and proposed selection criteria to compare the sourcing strategies to best benefit the [project] (Bracey, 2012, “On a more serious note”, para. 2).
With the addition of commas in the second example, the meaning is now easier to understand.
Misunderstandings in written communications can easily be avoided. Edit and proofread each message before it is sent, and ensure the correct punctuation is used every time.
Anastasiou, N. (Photographer). (2017). Textbooks [digital image]. Anastasiou Family Private Collection.
Bracey, R. (2012). A light-hearted look at how punctuation can change meaning. Retrieved from https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2012/11/22/a-light-hearted-look-at-how-punctuation-can-change-meaning/
Cenere, P., Gill, R., Lawson, C., & Lewis, M. (2015). Communication skills for business professionals. Melbourne, Australia: Cambridge University Press.
Edgar Allan Poe. (n.d.). Quotes – authors – e – edgar allan poe. Retrieved from http://www.azquotes.com/quote/569988
Poley, M.F., & Crocker, D. (2005). Business communication style guide. Kansas, USA: SkillPath Publications