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Posted on 03.05.2013

Does Your Writing Need a Tune-up?

Determining what represents good writing is somewhat subjective, but good writing should always be free of misspellings and grammatical and punctuation errors. These "mechanics" of writing are fundamental to effective communication and your mastery of them - or lack thereof - creates a certain impression of you when people read your work. Technical flaws in your writing style may distract clients, employees or customers from your message and cause you to appear less credible as a source of information.

Here are a few reminders to give your writing a tune-up so the substance of your written communications can better shine and - for those of you writing for media - be consistent with AP style.

A hyphen is not a dash. Hyphens are joiners. Use them to avoid ambiguity or to form a single idea from two or more words: Proper hyphen use:

  • Small-business owner - The owner of a small business is different than a small owner of a business. (How small is she? Is she short or thin or both?)
  • Full-time job
  • Fourth-quarter comeback
  • Two-thirds full
  • A 10- to 20-year prison sentence

Dashes are used to indicate an abrupt change in a thought or sentence, to create an emphatic pause, or before an author's name at the end of a quotation.

Proper use of a dash:

  • They drove - but not together - to the meeting.
  • He prefers primary colors - red, blue and yellow - to secondary colors or pastels.
  • "The virtue of books is to be readable." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

There is a correct way to write clock time. Use figures with a space after the last figure but no space in the abbreviation, which should be lowercase. Don't use figures for noon or midnight.

Proper use:

  • 6 a.m.
  • 10:45 p.m.
  • Noon

Incorrect use:

  • 6 AM
  • 5pm
  • 12:00 p.m. or 12:00 midnight

How to use apostrophe placement in decade references. An apostrophe should replace omitted numerals in decade references, but should not be used to show plural. To show plural, simply add the letter "s."To indicate a relationship between a decade and the noun or phrase that follows it, use an apostrophe after the "s," not before it.

Proper use:

  • The '90s
  • The 1860s
  • A 1950s' era vehicle

Incorrect use:

  • The 90s
  • The 1860's
  • A 1950's era vehicle

I hope these tips help you tune-up your writing. Please share your own punctuation tune-up advice and pet peeves. And don't forget to spell-check!


Dana Coleman is a Vice President at Lovell Communications. You can view more of Dana’s blogs here. Connect with Dana at Dana@lovell.com or @lovelldc

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