punctuation

Even after 16 years working as a writer, I still make grammar and punctuation mistakes. But at least some of my “mistakes,” I make on purpose. If you want to write powerful sales copy, I suggest you start making them too. Mistakes, that is.

How so? Consider…

1) The Mercurial M-Dash – You know the “m-dash.” It’s the long hyphen-looking thing that helps set apart — and even frame — a key thought in the middle of a sentence. (See what I just did there?) Copywriters use them all the time — maybe too often — to really emphasize a point they don’t want the reader to zip past. (Would you look at that? I did it again.)

 2) The Parenthetical Pull of Parentheses – Good writers frown on overusing, even abuse, of parenthetical remarks (you know the type). And really, parentheses are not used much in sales copy either. 

But sometimes (for instance, after a headline or in a sentence where you need a kind of “wink, nudge” aside to the reader) it doesn’t hurt to throw a comment inside parentheses. Done right, you can use this device to highlight the conversational, even conspiratorial tone sales copy sometimes needs to take.

 3) Culling Interest With Quotation Marks – We’re not supposed to use quotation marks unless we’re actually quoting someone who said something. Like, for instance, Frank Lloyd Wright. He once said, “I’m all in favor of keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of fools. Let’s start with typewriters.” Sharp fella.

 Still, quotation marks have a strange power over readers. Even when they’re not surrounding a “real” quote, they have a way of pulling readers in. Copywriters sometimes use that phenomenon by putting headlines and subheads in quotes. Or even words they just want to “emphasize.”

 (Go ahead… this is where you should make that little, cynical “I’m putting quotation marks here” sign with your fingers… ala Austin Powers and Dr. Evil.)

 4) The Evocative Ellipsis – The ellipsis, you’ve seen… haven’t you?  It’s that… how do I explain this… series of little… you know… dots that copywriters use so often in their copy. The ellipsis is supposed to just indicate missing text in a phrase. Especially where that text can be implied without being stated.

But we use it… and abuse it… in so many more ways.  Why?

Because it helps approximate the halting way many people speak. We let ideas trail off… we dance around a notion… we come back to the beginning. And we use these things, the “…,” to help us do so more fluidly and gently then you might if you were a whip-cracking grammarian. Try it. Ellipses are like potato chips. Once you start using them, you’ll find it hard to stop.

 5) The Ambitious Apostrophe – Contractions aren’t just for the delivery room anymore, my friend. Where a formal writer might frown at casual, contracted terms like “I’d”… “isn’t”… even “ain’t”… they also go a long way toward making your sales copy more casual and conversational.

Naturally, you don’t want to use these recklessly. They’re garnish on a piece of prose, spice to make it interesting. And a little something to give all those over-zealous copyeditors something to sweat about.

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