To make your writing a little tighter and more snappy, become friends with the semicolon.
The semicolon is a misunderstood punctuation mark. Some people have a strange notion that a semicolon is for academic writing or that it is used by people trying to look impressive; other people avoid semicolons because they are unfamiliar with them. Although you can get by without using one, you can strengthen your writing by knowing how to use it.
Semicolons, which usually divide two complete thoughts, let you keep closely related information in the same sentence, rather than breaking it into two. The sentence “I am glad she was hired; she was the best candidate” shows the close relationship between the ideas on both sides of the semicolon, and it saves using the word “because.” In a tweet or a post, that saves nine characters, seven in the word “because,” plus the space on each side.
Resist the urge to break writing into short sentences, because that creates choppy text. Too often, people get carried away with the mantra “write short, declarative sentences,” and they end up writing prose that sounds like a children’s Dick and Jane book, as in this series:
You have helped in several ways. One example was providing administrative support. You have done that on a number of occasions. You have developed a performance file for the people you lead. You were also key in getting new shipments out on display.
A series of consecutive short sentences makes it more difficult for the reader to consume your message. The brain can tell intuitively that these separate–but–related thoughts belong in the same sentence, so it repeatedly stops and goes backwards to make the connection that the writer should have made either by rewriting the sentences or by inserting appropriate punctuation.
Just remember that semicolons almost always divide independent clauses (complete thoughts). Don’t drop it in randomly between any group of words. Semicolons are occasionally used to divide elements (clauses) that are longer than usual, though not excessively long.
Ken O’Quinn conducts writing and managerial workshops for corporations. A former Associated Press writer, he is the author of Perfect Phrases for Business and is a contributing author of Focus on Them, about leadership.