Correct use of colons and semi-colons is good for showing-off. The comma does a fine job separating things. Brackets, dashes and the ellipsis all have a role to play. The exclamation mark adds drama.
Yet my favourite beast in the punctuation zoo is the humble full stop. Or, for Americans, the period. Some call it a dot.
It may be tiny. Sometimes it is hard to spot. On the printed page it uses next to no ink. On your smartphone screen it may be a single pixel.
The smallest punctuation mark is the most powerful. That’s because it ends a sentence. At the other end you’ll find a capital letter. Between the two you should find a group of words that hang – hopefully logically – together.
Better sentences contain a single idea. The best ones are also short.
Academic writing, poetry and literature have their own priorities. Most other types of writing work best when sentences don’t ramble.
This means lots of full stops. They make writing easier to understand. They help get ideas from one person to another quickly and efficiently.
Short sentences are clear. They are more likely to be unambiguous. They don’t need advanced reading skills. Nor do they need English as a first language. If you want to reach the biggest audiences you can’t go wrong with short sentences.
Don’t let people tell you short sentences are patronising. They can be powerful. Take the shortest sentence in the Bible. Jesus wept. Those nine letters pack a hefty punch.
‘Staccato’, ‘tabloid’, ‘simple’. Some say these words as if they are bad things. For me they are a sign of a writer who knows their art. I aim for ‘spare’, ‘tight’, ‘efficient’.
So the next time you put pen to paper aim for the maximum number of full stops. You’ll make me smile.