In an era of compressed writing, semicolons can be helpful by saving you a word and making writing more crisp.
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 “show-offs”; other people avoid semicolons because they are unfamiliar with them. Although you can get by without using a semicolon, you can strengthen your writing by knowing how to use it.
Semicolons let you keep closely related information in the same sentence, rather than breaking it into two. “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 will make it more difficult for the reader to consume your message. The brain can tell 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.
To improve the clarity and efficiency of your email writing be sure to register for our next webinar, June 2nd.
Ken O’Quinn is a professional writing coach and former Associated Press writer who conducts corporate workshops on business writing, persuasive writing, and corporate communications writing. He is the author of Perfect Phrases for Business Letters (McGraw-Hill), which is available at here at Amazon.com.