Tag Archives: punctuation

First impressions last

Have you ever rolled your eyes when an email popped in? Assumed something is junk mail on the basis of the poor English in the subject line? Or made a judgment about a person or a company because of the first impression they made with their email?

Email subject lines are important. They are easy to get right. And they are so often messed up.

This isn’t a blog post about how to write effective email subject lines – there’s plenty of that on the internet. This is about how to avoid five common mistakes that affect the first impression you make electronically.

Full of typos

When you’re firing off a million emails a day, it’s easy to make spelling errors. It’s also easy to identify them, thanks to the lovely red squiggly lines we all appreciate deeply. Unfortunately, subject lines of emails don’t afford us that luxury.

‘Check out this new atricle about scniece’

One way to eliminate these errors is to write the subject line in the email body or in Word first to check it. However, this won’t pick up the best typos: when the mistakes create actual words – like ‘best’ to ‘bets’. My favourite ever email subject line went something like this:

‘New research has impact on pubic policy’


Tip: check carefully for typos – especially the invisible kind.

Badly punctuated

There is no excuse to omit an apostrophe in an email subject line. It baffles me how often people fail to punctuate their subject lines properly. And simply because they are short and not covered by the standard spell check service as the main body of the email. That’s laziness.

‘Biziorek, Wed like to welcome you back to Kaiser Permanente’

In this example, provided by Travis Biziorek, the company Kaiser has missed the apostrophe in we’d. The result is jarring, unprofessional and annoying.

Another thing with noting about this is the capital letter of ‘Wed’. Presumably this is the result of the recipient’s surname being automatically entered into the subject line, and the person responsible for the text probably thought it looked more acceptable starting with ‘W’ in the absence of the name.

Tip: check your subject line carefully for correct punctuation.

Too complicated (and wrong)

People notice when your grammar is wrong. Some people will tell you: Matt Korostoff is a man I can relate to. On this forum, he politely informs Bibucket that the subject line of one of their automated emails is grammatically incorrect, because ‘I thought you would like to know.’ Thumbs up to Matt, and thumbs up to Zach Davis from Bitbucket, who responds ‘Thanks Matt… this will definitely be changing (to the “You have been granted…” form, if you’re curious)…’

The subject line of the original email was: ‘You have hereby been granted write access to organization-name/repo-name.’

When I read this the word ‘hereby’ jumps out at me. Why? It’s unnecessary. It’s old-fashioned. It’s almost certainly grander than it needs to be.

Tip: treat your subject line like any other sentence. Read it aloud. If it sounds wrong it probably is wrong.


These days we don’t all boot up a desktop computer to read our emails. Between smartphones, tablets and pop-up notifications, email subject lines get squeezed and distorted in all sorts of ways. You really have to think about this when writing them, as pointed out by Bill Lampton, PhD on this Business Know-How blog:

‘When I received my copy of the New York Times online, the title of one article was supposed to read: “No one sure what will happen to Ken Lay’s assets.” Because the title was too long to fit the allotted space, the ETS got cut from ASSETS.’

Tip: cut your subject line in different places to make sure it makes sense, makes an impact and doesn’t make anyone giggle.


Groupon’s got this one in the bag:

‘Father’s Day deals for the man who gave birth to you’

Tip: it’s always best not to say something completely stupid in your subject line. If you’re unsure about what you’re saying, ask a colleague/friend/sanity checker to read it before you hit send.

It’s pretty simple – just pay attention and pause before you send. Read the subject line. If it’s bad, it will make you look bad. And if it’s the start of a long exchange of emails, it could wind up making you look bad repeatedly.

From now on, if I receive an email with a subject line that falls under one of the categories I’ve listed here, I’ll correct it. Will you?

Oxford Comma by Vampire Weekend – do you care?

“Who gives a f**k about an Oxford comma?” A good question indeed. Do you?

Here’s a fun poll.

Become a presentation pedant

*By popular demand, my edit of the example slide is below. See if you agree!*

We all broadcast messages every day: on the phone, by email and on social media. But one place people all too often neglect to check their grammar is in presentations. One of the most blatant broadcasts you can make.

Some may argue that you shouldn’t be using text in a presentation at all. While I tend to agree (it’s distracting and forces people to listen to you less intently), the reality is that text-based presentations are alive and well. Well, alive.

Consistency is key when it comes to presentations. A misplaced full stop, double space or odd font can look very unprofessional, and can draw attention away from what you’re saying. They will also reduce your credibility.

So here are my eight top tips for editing your presentation slides.


  1. Write your text using a word processing programme, like Microsoft Word. Check your spelling before transferring to your presentation template. Show paragraph marks and remove any double spacing.
  2. Ask someone else to edit your slides for you. You’ll never see all the mistakes yourself, and it’s always best to get a fresh pair of eyes on your words before you share them with the world.
  3. Cast your eye over the presentation. Does anything look strange? If it does, it usually is.
  4. Check text size, font and colour. A subtle difference on the screen will be amplified by a projector.
  5. Check your punctuation. Just because it’s a presentation, that doesn’t mean you can get away with missing apostrophes and commas.
  6. Check your bulletpoints. Do you use a full stop at the end of a bulletpoint? Then make sure all the bulletpoints in your presentation have a full stop. Don’t use full stops on one slide, then semicolons on the next. It looks like you can’t make a small decision.
  7. Check your use of capital letters. Have some respect for capital letters – don’t drag them out just because you want to make something look more important than it is. Capital letters should only be used at the start of a sentence, and for proper nouns. If you use them in slide headers (I wouldn’t recommend this), then use them consistently.
  8. Perform a sanity check. Do a test run with someone, and ask them to point out errors.

Of course, if you’re using a bright yellow background and white text all this won’t help you. There are plenty of books you can read with tips on how to make a good presentation. But whatever you do with the layout, colours and animation (gulp), make sure your text is top notch.

Here’s my edit of the slide.



  • Get your grammar right – ‘you’re’ is a contraction of ‘you are’. It should be ‘your’
  • If you’re planning to capitalize titles (which I wouldn’t recommend, but more on that another time), make sure they are fully capitalized

Point 1

  • This is in English, not German, so ‘presentation’ doesn’t need a capital letter
  • In this example, we’re using semicolons at the end of each bulletpoint, so the full stop should be replaced by a semicolon

Point 2

  • Well done. (Although you could contract ‘does’ and ‘not’ to ‘doesn’t’, depending on the overall tone of your presentation)

Point 3

  • There are spaces before the first word, making it look uneven. Delete the spaces
  • ‘when’ should have a lowercase ‘w’ and the additional space in front of the word should be deleted. Only one space between two words is required

Point 4

  • As per the rules for this example, add a semicolon at the end of the line

Point 5

  • This is a different size. If you want to make an impact, make it obvious – orange, bold, centred – like this it just looks like a mistake
  • The full stop at the end of this line is correct. In a bulletpoint list with semicolons at the end of each point, the final point should have a full stop