Eclectic Blog

Confused by Semicolons? Read On

Semicolons might be the most maligned punctuation mark after apostrophes. If you struggle with when and how to use them, it’s helpful to know you are never required to use semicolons. You can keep using periods and move on with your life.

However, semicolons are easier to use when you know they only have three functions with no exceptions. Let’s look at when to use semicolons.

Join Two Complete Sentences Together

Sometimes you might have two short, related sentences that you would like to link together. You could use a conjunction (such as and, but, or so) with a comma. Or you could use a semicolon instead. Here’s an example:

We discussed the grant proposal; we decided not to give the group its funding.

Note that you can’t just insert a comma here, because that would be a comma splice. You could choose to use a period and keep them as two sentences though.

Join Two Complete Sentences Together with a Transition Word

Sometimes you might have two short, related sentences that you would like to link with a larger transition word or phrase (such as first, on the other hand, however, therefore or although). In these cases, you need to use both a semicolon and a comma. Here’s an example:

We discussed the grant proposal; however, we decided not to give the group its funding.

Note the semicolon before the transition word however and the comma after it. You can’t use a comma with a transition word the way you do with a conjunction, because this also creates a comma splice. Again, if you don’t like the look of this sentence, you can keep it as two separate sentences with a period in between.

Use to Separate Items in a Series

The final use of a semicolon is to separate items in a series if there are already commas within the series. This makes the sentence easier to read than if you put commas between items. Here is an example:

There were three people nominated for the position: Jane Smith, accounts manager; Jennifer Thomas, marketing manager; and Bob Jones, supervisor.

Note how the semicolons make this series easier to read. You could also move the series into a bulleted list to avoid the need for the semicolons.

When Not to Use Semicolons

You should not use semicolons for any other purpose. They are not interchangeable with colons. You should use a colon before starting a list, not a semicolon.

 You also shouldn’t use semicolons after the salutation in a letter, such as Dear Jane. You should use either a colon or a comma after a salutation.

Finally, you should avoid using semicolons at the end of bullet points. If each bullet is not a full sentence, you should not use any punctuation.

How Much Do Your Meetings Cost You?

Unless you work by yourself all the time, chances are good you have to attend meetings occasionally. Some of us spend more than half our time in meetings. While meetings can be an excellent way to share ideas and create common solutions, they can also be a waste of time when they aren’t run well.

Sometimes meetings drag on too long, get off topic or include people who shouldn’t even be there. There are also times when a meeting could have been effective, but no one came prepared.

Use a Meeting Cost Calculator

Do you know how much money meetings cost your organization? To estimate this cost, we have a helpful meeting cost calculator on our website.

On the calculator, enter the following information:

  • duration of the meeting (in minutes)
  • number of participants
  • average annual salary of participants (in thousands)
  • meeting incidental costs

Then click calculate for an estimated cost of your meeting. The cost isn’t a problem if the meeting is effective and productive. But if it isn’t a useful meeting, you can see how much money you may be wasting.

Get Better Results with Specific Language

When trying to create effective business documents, we are often told to be concise. While this is important for business documents, conciseness needs to be paired with specific language. A document can’t be clear if vague language is used or important details are left out.

When writing documents, always ask yourself if you’ve included everything the reader needs and wants to know. For example, if you are planning a staff social event, have you explained why you are holding the event? Where and when it will be? What will happen and who is invited? It won’t matter if you have a short, fun email if you forget to tell people when it is. 

It’s also vital that you avoid vague sounding words such as some, few, many, and very. You may think these words add emphasis, but they provide little value to your document. Some words may sound specific but aren’t, such as the word majority. If you say a majority of staff like our new benefits plan, how much is a majority? Do 50.1 percent of staff like it or 95 percent? There’s quite a difference between those two figures.

Anytime you use vague language, you leave it up to your readers to fill in the blanks and make guesses. This can lead to problems for everyone.

Remember, when trying to be specific:

  • never leave your readers guessing
  • use shorter, more common words when possible
  • avoid industry and bureaucratic jargon (also called business speak)
  • remove bulky words that don’t add value (such as very and really)

How to Create Better Policies and Procedures

Policies and procedures are important documents that outline the way an organization operates. If you want people to follow them, they need to be clear and specific. What are some things you can do to ensure you have effective policies and procedures? We offer six best practices.

Focus on the User

Too often, policies and procedures are written for a management or HR perspective. The best documents are written for the perspective of users and consider their needs and wants.

Include Only Necessary Information

Don’t include irrelevant information, even if it pertains to your topic. Only include information users must have to accomplish a task or understand a rule.

Use Plain Language

Write using language that all users can understand while being clear, concise and specific. This helps prevent confusion and incorrect interpretations.

Use a Neutral Tone

Encourage cooperation with a neutral, respectful tone. People respond better when it’s assumed they will meet expectations, not when it’s assumed they will fail to comply with expectations.

Reflect Current Practices

All policies and procures should reflect current practices and be kept up to date. Don’t include information that addresses past practices or issues.

Focus on Stable Conditions

Policies and procedures should focus on stable conditions, meaning situations that don’t change constantly. It’s too difficult for users to keep up with ever changing rules.

Use Transition to Make Your Writing More Compelling

Do you think much about using transition in your writing? It’s one of many practices that separate good writing from mediocre writing.

Transition words and phrases link your ideas together smoothly and allow readers to make predictions about what will come next in your document. For example, if you see the word therefore in the middle of a document, you know the writer is establishing a cause and effect. But, if you see the word however in a document, you know the writer is about to establish a contrast.

Transition words help your readers identify the progression of your content through multiple paragraphs in both shorter and longer documents.

How to Use Transition

Using transition words and phrases (such as also, moreover, because, since, although, next and finally) is the most common way to create transition, but there are three other techniques you can use.

First, use repetition of words or ideas. For example: We offer multiple workshops in communication. These workshops can teach you about writing effective emails and letters.

Second, use a specific reference to numbers instead of vague references such as few, many or some. For example: You will learn three types of report formats in this webinar.

Third, use a reference to time. For example: During the last five years, we competed with three other software suppliers. Now, two of those companies have gone out of business.

Help make your messages clear, precise and compelling by including transition in your writing. (But be careful you don’t overdo it!)

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