‘Looking forward to see you !’
Read that sentence. What pops out for you? For me, being a lifelong editor (a former colleague used to joke that we were editors till death do us part — சாகும்வரை sub-editor), it’s the space before the exclamation mark. It annoys me to no end and my fingers are already inching towards that line to fix it.
Most people would not look askance at a line like that. In fact, it might even be the way things are for them. But if you’re sending lines filled with punctuation like this to someone else who is editing it, or reading it, it doesn’t send great signals about you as a writer.
These are insignificant things, you say. But they aren’t. A cousin of mine would re-read every email before he sent it, sometimes thrice, just to make sure it was error-free. When I was younger, this seemed like a strange practice to me. Now, I do the same thing. An attention to detail only means that you really care about what you write, not that you’re a pedant.
There are, of course, other punctuation marks which are based on style guides. The em dash is one of them. I prefer a space before and after, because every newsroom I’ve worked at followed that style. Ranjani puts a space before and after a slash (/), I keep taking it out, like our own little Google Docs war, but there are no set rules for that. In those cases, it’s about personal preference.
I’ve long held that there are two kinds of people in the world — those that use punctuation out of place in texts and those who don’t. It’s pretty obvious which category I fall in. And now I have made it my job to bring more people into the second one. Give your punctuations some space, but after, not before.
Written by Sruthi Radhakrishnan, who is a writer at emdash, after a 10-year stint in journalism, who obsesses over little details. She can be found @sruthirk on Twitter.