Reading Room: Eats Shoots & Leaves – part 2

You may wonder why I’m devoting two posts to a book about punctuation, but all HR professionals spend a significant amount of time writing emails, memos and open enrollment materials. Sometimes it’s simple punctuation mistakes that take our message from the land of clarity into the land of confusion. While the book includes many examples of punctuation, I’m only listing the ones that are commonly found in business writing.


  1. Commas divide items in a list but are not required before the ‘and’. (For the corporate world however, please check your corporate style guide as this can vary)
  2. Commas can be used to join two complete sentences together using and, or, but, while and yet.
  3. Commas can be used to provide a piece of additional information to a sentence. Example: The open enrollment period, November 1 – 15, is the one time a year when you can select your benefits.

Semicolons: A semicolon is used when there are two related sentences and no conjunction such as and or but.

Colons: A colon announces what is to come and can also be used to define two opposing statements.

Quotation Marks: In American grammar, all terminal punctuation goes inside the quotation marks. Example: I asked the employee if he was “beating a dead horse.” British grammar on the other hand only includes the terminal punctuation inside the quotes if it is a direct quote and not an expression.


  1. Hyphens are used to avoid ambiguity in common words. Example: shell-like, de-ice.
  2. Hyphens are used when spelling out numbers. Example: forty-nine
  3. Hyphens are used when linking nouns with nouns. Example: Breast-Lyon train.

In short, buy and read this book or another book on grammar before you write your next email.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

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