Western Calligraphy

Punctuation is a dreaded topic for many of us. It has haunted us since our first English test that went horribly wrong. It is something that can easily feel troublesome and trivial to us. I mean, why would anyone care if I forget to hit the spacebar after a comma? Or if the font size is 14px in this heading instead of 16px in the rest?

There’s more to punctuation than just commas and apostrophes

We’re not only talking about punctuation in terms of periods, commas, quotation marks, and hyphens; we’re talking about consistent structure in writing. I only chose the word ‘punctuation’ because I wanted to scare everyone away. Well, I hope I got at least someone’s attention, because otherwise I would just be writing to my cat who is dozing in my lap. But seriously, you have to get serious about punctuation. I’ll tell you why.

Punctuation, structure, spelling and grammar are all important when it comes to writing, because they are the cosmetic details that instantly communicate to the reader how punctual and professional the writer is. Sometimes the writer writes in haste and cannot concentrate on the smaller details that are less significant for him.

Careless texts abound

We can see careless writing in so many instances. College professors conduct their lectures using PowerPoint slides that are infested with inconsistencies. There are grammatical mistakes, spelling errors, and more gravely, shocking structure. Here’s an example (in which I’m disguised as a professor):

Our goal is to investigate various safeguards against possible security hazards on
– Linux Servers
– Windows servers
– MacOS X Machines

and learn how to implement them with the following things in mind:

– efficiency
– confidentiality
– integrity
-ease of use

The message comes across, but so does the lack of precision. Of course, IT professors are usually not there to lecture us on aesthetics, design, or grammar, but the ones who write their texts with correct punctuation, grammar, spelling and structure definitely have a greater impact on the students. Those teachers show professionalism. And it is much more pleasant to read well-structured text, because we can see that the author has put greater effort into his or her work.

Small changes make a clear difference:

Our goal is to investigate various safeguards against possible security hazards on

– Linux servers
– Windows servers
– Mac OS X servers

and learn how to implement them with the following things in mind:

– efficiency
– confidentiality
– integrity
– accessibility
– ease of use

So, it’s good to pay closer attention to our careless writing habits, and develop a new style that also focuses on the smaller details.

Let’s proofread our writing habits

So how does all of what I’ve just said affect us? Well, in a lot of ways. From your résumé to your Facebook profile. When you offer your writings to be read by others, they will be evaluating you based on what you have written. And the first thing that stands out is the appearance of your text. Even if it was written in Esperanto, the structure would still be visible to everyone.

Here are simple extracts from two hypothetical CVs (they’re not real). Which applicant, do you think, looks more organized, just based on how she structured her text?

“I have worked as a hotel receptionist for 2 yrs. babysitter for 1, at a grocery store for 8 months and as a telephone operator for six months.”

“I have worked as a bicycle salesperson for two years, bartender for one year, supermarket cashier for seven months, and babysitter for two weeks.”

It’s pretty obvious. Miranda’s jobs are listed in an irregular fashion. She uses multiple formats: “2 yrs.”, “1”, “8 months”, and “six months”. The employer will have to pay more attention to her text because of these inconsistencies. Although this is very normal and even acceptable when we text to our friends over SMS, in an official situation like this, the employer would most likely consider choosing Amanda instead of Miranda if the employer were to evaluate them according to only those two examples.

Why Miranda? Let’s examine her text. She seems more organized, at least when we look at her sentence structure. She spells out all her numbers and doesn’t abbreviate any units. Everything is consistent. The opposite would have been fine too; she could have abbreviated all the units and used numerals, as long as she used the same format and didn’t change it at whim.

This concept doesn’t only apply to PowerPoint presentations and CVs. It applies to everything. Marketing. Term papers. Blogging. Success.

It’s time for a habit change

I’ll admit that I’m not a professional writer, so I’m also prone to making tons of mistakes. But we can all improve our writing by becoming more self-aware and making a habit out of noticing our errors in writing. Even the smallest inaccuracies. Triple spaces. Spaces after commas. Using varying bullet point formats in one list. Common spelling errors. Any inconsistencies. Inconsistent paragraph breaks. Different colors for related elements. Misspellings of people’s names and company names. Et cetera.

This practice will differentiate you from the ones who don’t care about good presentation. The people who observe you will eventually notice these merits if you manage to adopt this habit. Your supervisors will discover how exact you are with your tasks. Your readers will notice how well you pay attention to minor details and how professionally crafted your texts are. Your mom will be shocked to see how neatly you’ve begun to hang the laundry. People will notice these things. You will be marketing yourself as someone who doesn’t do half-assed jobs, which means that in the long run, you will be attracting more opportunities than those who lack this merit.