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Style Corner: List Punctuation

A message I try to hammer home to my students is the need for consistency in business writing.

Not ‘foolish consistency… the hobgoblin of little minds’ as Ralph Waldo Emerson had it, but sensible, pragmatic consistency which avoids annoying or disengaging your reader to the point where they ‘swipe left’ on your content.

This applies to layout as much as – or more than – any other aspect of business writing.

One area where writers are often guilty of layout inconsistency is the punctuation of lists; across different lists in the same piece, or sometimes even within a single list.

It’s unnecessary, messy and unprofessional.

Style Corner: Split Infinitives

The last Style Corner blog covered a topic at the grammar end of the spectrum, the use of commas to divide two full sentences (or comma splice).

This time we go to the other end of the spectrum, to a topic that is not grammar, not really usage and not really even style. Yet it still still exercises an absurd, unwarranted degree of influence on people’s writing habits; even though it is no more than a nineteenth century myth.

Worse, it causes anxiety and uncertainty. Some style guides still frown on it, and some writers, consciously or unconsciously, avoid it; thankfully no longer The Economist, which now ‘allows’ it.

Many brave grammarian and journalist knights have tried to slay the split infinitive dragon, and this blog represents my own small sword stroke towards that end.

Style Corner: The Comma Splice

Welcome to my new, shorter blog, Style Corner.

As the name suggests it will focus mainly on style and usage and not on grammar; based on the idea that most contentious topics in business writing, and writing more generally, are not actually to do with grammar.

There are of course rules of grammar in English but not as many as people think; and to native English speakers and writers they are just that: native, innate, internal. To non-native English speakers and writers they have to be learned, yes, but the playing field is more level than you might imagine.

Native English speakers, especially those of a certain age and educational cohort, are just as likely as non-native speakers to be confused about what is ‘correct’ or not; and about whether the ‘correctness’ of something is a grammatical matter or a matter of usage and style.

Style Corner is intended to clarify some of the uncertainty.

Exceptionally, though, the first topic is actually about a grammatical matter: the comma splice.