No One Should Ever Have to Read the Same Sentence Twice
Everyone knows what professional quality (and low quality) content looks like when they see it, but it’s a lot harder to create it. Good marketing writers have their own lists of quality priorities that go something like this:
2, Spelling, grammar and syntax
3. Brand messaging/alignment
My own #4 is readability. Readability refers to how easy it is for the average person to read the content. This is not the same as reader engagement—which is more like entertainment value. People will keep reading material that is well-written—even if it’s not that entertaining (i.e. a datasheet). Conversely, they will quickly lose interest in material that is difficult to read.
My motto is: “No one should ever have to read the same sentence twice.” Content that is difficult to read usually has punctuation issues. In most cases, we are talking about under-punctuation. This happens with writers who aren’t experienced, but also experienced writers who follow accepted punctuation rules to the letter.
AP Style (the Associated Press Stylebook used by most journalists) is an excellent guide and is generally based on readability, but there are many instances where it is not. AP rules also take space limitations into account. A good example of this is the rule about not adding a comma after the second to last item in a series. This is OK most of the time, but there are instances where it creates confusion.
Punctuation is definitely an art. A good way to gauge the effectiveness of punctuation in your own writing is to read it out loud. If you are stumbling over phrases and sentences; have another look at the punctuation—could a comma or semicolon smooth things out a bit?
A comma can serve all kinds of purposes—because of this, it’s often hard for the reader to know exactly what it’s there for. When in doubt go with a semicolon. I could go on and on about my love for the semicolon, instead I’ll just recommend Lynn Truss’s website: https://www.lynnetruss.com/books/eats-shoots-leaves/ and classic book “Eats, Shoot & Leaves.”