Punctuation and the Internet
While it’s true that the web is often viewed as more informal than other sources of written content, the English language still has its rules and most of them still apply to blogs, website content, and other digital assets. In most cases, poor spelling, punctuation, typos, and other mistakes can potentially affect your credibility with readers, and they can all be a distraction for all those grammar grouches out there.
The only outlier seems to be social media as people are the most informal when chatting with their friends, sharing photos, and otherwise socializing. Businesses, however, should avoid being overly casual—even in the comments!—and consider these punctuation notes whenever you’re posting online.
1. Exclamation Marks
There’s a whole world out there that thinks exclamation marks have no place in business content. I’d have to disagree with that as a blanket statement as sometimes things are just that exciting. On the other hand, using them too often or using more than one can drop the level of professionalism down and prevent people from taking you seriously.
The exception: when you don’t want people to take you seriously! Especially for retail businesses that spend a lot of time on social media. You know your audience and whether they’ll get excited with you or be annoyed at the drama!!!!
2. Punctuating Weird Stuff
Not everyone has a separate section of bookmarks that cover how to punctuate a variety of strange situations. I do, but that’s because I’m genuinely interested and because I refuse to return client work that’s not punctuated correctly. For everyone else, here are a couple of rules to remember as I see these most often done incorrectly:
Quotation Marks. Punctuation always goes inside the quotes. Even when it looks weird.
Parentheses. Punctuation always goes outside the parentheses, even at the end of a sentence. The exception is when the parentheses contain a complete sentence, question, or exclamation, but even then, all the rest of the punctuation goes outside.
Titles and Headings. In general, these don’t need punctuation beyond commas unless they are questions or exclamations (again, go easy on the exclamations).
Apostrophes. Add an apostrophe + “s” to make something possessive even if the word already ends in s (i.e., the dog’s leash; James’s banana). If the word already ends in s because it is plural, then put the apostrophe on the end of the word (i.e., the bananas’ peels). Also, “it’s” is short for “it is” and the possessive of “it” is “its” so enjoy that exception.
Capitalize every word in a title or heading, except for prepositions and other small words (a, the, of, and). The exception: always capitalize the first and last word no matter what it is. Some might argue about capitalizing the last word in a title, but that rule is included in AP style and, when in doubt, choose AP style for the web unless otherwise requested.
[Nerd Alert: Why choose AP style? Because AP style is what newspapers and magazines follow and journalists and other news writers happened to be the first ones to come online and start deciding who is boss. Plus, web content more closely matches journalistic work than, say, a college research paper or a work of fiction. Well. You decide on the fiction part.]
[Double Nerd Alert: I don’t care what the AP Style Guide says, I’m using the Oxford comma unless otherwise requested because it helps people read lists and series without having to stop and think about it.]
When in Doubt
Google it! Just type your question right into the search bar and you’ll get your answer in a millisecond. I also have a few go-to sources for double-checking rules, mainly because they give a little more information beyond the simple answer, and I like knowing all that extra stuff. My favorites are Grammar Girl on Quick and Dirty Tips and the Purdue Writing Lab, but there are hundreds of great resources out there.