Vox pop – November 2007

Punctuation. A writer’s best friend or creative straightjacket?

Martin Lee, Acacia Avenue

To me, punctuation marks are like extra letters of the alphabet, simply there to help a writer make their meaning clear. They are normally missing in public signs, so that you end up with unintentionally comic ambiguity, such as “Slow police” instead of “Slow. Police.” Hmmm, maybe I’ve just talked myself out of punctuation…

John Simmons

I love. Full stops changing. The meaning of a sentence. Commas can do just as nicely given a, chance…

Mike Reed, Reed Words

The question doesn’t make much sense as ‘Punctuation a writers best friend or creative straightjacket’, and I think that’s the point. Punctuation aids meaning. I get a frightening amount of what you might call Joycean emails from clients who seem to drop all punctuation as soon as they see a keyboard. These messages take repeated, careful reading to decipher, and even then I often have to ring up and clarify. I have no idea why anyone – except for specific stylistic effect – would want to ditch these friendly little marks. They’re only trying to help.

Nick Asbury

I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s my best friend – punctuation has never bought me a round, for one thing. But it’s undoubtedly a good thing. The writer’s job is to help clients project a professional image and get their message across. Bad punctuation distracts from the message and makes you look shoddy. On the other hand, it is annoying when people pull you up on silly things. Splitting an infinitive is fine if the alternative sounds clumsy. And starting a sentence with ‘And’ is OK – always has been. Although admittedly it can look out of place in certain contexts. (Starting a sentence with ‘Although’ is OK too, I reckon.)

Jim Davies, totalcontent

I don’t think of punctuation as a Truss. In fact, it allows you to shape your words more precisely, to create subtle accents and nuances – precision or ambiguity.

Rishi Dastidar

Punctuation a straitjacket? Only if you’re already on the way to being locked up. If we didn’t have rules, then there wouldn’t be any fun in breaking them. Plus a well-judged semi-colon; well, it has the power to break your heart, non? If your words arrives mostly as txtspk, I can see how an ellipsis might not be of use… but for the rest of us, we should embrace the constraint. For it liberates, ultimately.

Tim Rich

I match my use of punctuation to the effect I want to create within the reader. If I want to convey a clear meaning I’ll opt for exact punctuation that invites the reader towards the messages I have in mind. If I want to disorientate I’ll introduce ambiguity. But I’m less and less interested in the trivia of stylistic experimentation and more and more interested in the trivium of liberal arts.

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