Eats, shoots and leaves - why punctuation saves lives

Have you read Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss? It's a marvellous read for anyone fanatical about punctuation (I have to admit for being a bit of a stickler for that myself), and demonstrates brilliantly that punctuation is incredibly important when it comes to getting your message across effectively.

So, the idea behind the book cover goes like this: A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and proceeds to fire it at everyone around him. 'Why?' asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and throws it over his shoulder. 'Well, I'm a panda,' he says. 'Look it up.' The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation. 'Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.' Pop a comma in the wrong place and our panda goes from innocently seeking a snack to a blood-thirsty villain. So how's this relevant to your business?

Well, if you're remotely involved in writing copy for your sales literature/website/e-shots, you need to be good at this stuff. Poor grammar is a massive turn off, looks unprofessional and sends out a pretty shoddy message about your business. How well you communicate your message determines how your potential customers perceive you. Trip them up on badly constructed text and it sends out a message that you're sloppy, second-rate and unprofessional, and will make them wonder why they should trust you with their business. Take the following example, for instance:

'Bob's lawnmowers are offering our clients new and old a discount on our new range of lawnmowers which are quicker and better than the other lawnmowers that we sell and are very popular with people who have big gardens especially in the summer months. Discount valid this sunday.'

The lack of punctuation means you've run out of breath by the time you get to the end of the sentence, and to be frank, these people could be offering lawnmowers for free and you wouldn't care in the slightest - the impression has been made and it isn't pretty. Aside from the poor choice of words (more on writing copy that actually sells later!), it's nonsensical. As well as giving a sentence meaning, punctuation gives clear signals to the reader as to when they should pause, stop or pay attention to a particular word or phrase, which is absolutely essential.

It's amazing how many businesses fail to dedicate sufficient attention to the quality of the words they use to convey their message. While it would be unrealistic to expect everyone to be brilliant at writing (after all, most business owners didn't get into business because of their exceptional copywriting skills), with a few tips and tricks you can really transform the way you write and create engaging copy that compels your reader to buy from you. I'm going to be writing a series of blogs on copywriting for business - will you join me? If there's anything you'd like me to cover in the series, I'd love to hear from you! Leave me a comment or email me. Let's get started!