It’s punctuation day on 24 September, and although the day is an import from the US, I wanted to add my own thoughts within the context of bid writing.
Why is punctuation important?
Writing clearly is the bid writer’s raison d’être and punctuation supports the transmission of the message by creating scorable, succinct copy that answers the question. Knowing the basics helps the first draft to get on the paper quicker, as well as speeding up the review and editing process. However, language is changing and slavishly enforcing the rules is becoming less appropriate or even irrelevant.
How I’ve seen English evolve
I have seen business English evolve significantly over the past 16 years I have been writing to win work, morphing from widely-recognised formalised structures, to a more fluid approach with shorter sentences and fewer punctuation marks. This is driven by reduced attention spans, people being busier and needing to speed read more (with a proliferation of punctuation marks slowing down reading speed) and the increasing influence of text speak.
For example, one convention that has disappeared in this time (at least within the sectors I write in) is the ‘bulleted list’, using semi-colons at the end of each sentence, with the penultimate sentence being marked with ; and, and rounded off with a full stop. This has been simplified to bullets with no end punctuation, other than a full-stop completing the last point.
Everyone has their own opinions and it’s about developing your own writing style you are comfortable with. I worked with an editor who felt I used too many commas to divide up clauses, so I took their feedback on board and reduced them. Bid writing has made my own writing style very blunt with few extra words or punctuation marks – this has been necessary to meet often very demanding page limits.
How I’ve developed my knowledge
Strangely though, English grammar isn’t something I really learnt at school, although I did learn the complexities of the French and German languages by rote. My knowledge has developed during my working life – absorbing the rules laid out in writing style guides and working with some superb editors during my freelance bid life. It’s worth noting that no two writing style guides are ever the same, confirming my point about rule enforcement being less relevant. As a writer, I just flex my writing to meet each style guide’s requirements.
What are your thoughts?
How do you see good punctuation? A necessary evil or something to master? I’d love to know your thoughts.