Something I’ve been noticing recently is that many writers – professional journalists among them – seem to have developed an aversion to the full stop.
I’m frequently presented with text which is riddled with commas, colons, semi-colons, dashes and a variety of other squiggles, dots and doodles, with ne’er a full stop to be seen.
This phenomenon is particularly noticeable in direct quotes. So, for example, it’s no longer uncommon to read a paragraph like this…
It was a great day, the weather was fantastic and a big crowd turned out, we would like to thank everybody who helped out with the organisation of the event, without them it would not have been possible.
Another instance in which this arises is where the person being quoted uses the word ‘and’ a lot, such as the following:
We had a great day and the weather was fantastic and the people who turned up really enjoyed themselves and helped contribute to a great day and we are already looking forward to next year’s event.
In both instances, the writer is guilty of being almost too scrupulous when it comes to reproducing the direct quote – and in doing so sacrificing the nuance of the speech. Someone reading either of the sentences above might well get the impression of the speaker as someone who speaks quickly, without taking a breath or pausing for thought, her words little more than a breathless stream of verbiage.
In reality, it is more likely that the speaker would have paused for breath or to emphasize a particular word or phrase. It is the job of the writer to somehow capture this when reproducing her/her quote. Judicious use of the full stop is an excellent way of doing this.
Here’s what happens if you use it effectively:
It was a great day. The weather was fantastic and a big crowd turned out. We would like to thank everybody who helped out with the organisation of the event; without them it would not have been possible.
In the second example, it is acceptable to replace a couple of those Ands with full stops. Here goes:
We had a great day. The weather was fantastic and the people who turned up really enjoyed themselves and helped contribute to a great day. We are already looking forward to next year’s event.
The full stops give a shape to the quotes and make life much easier for the reader, who now doesn’t have to re-read the sentence to identify the emphasis and the essence of what is being said.
The same applies throughout your writing, whether you’re quoting directly or not. Don’t be afraid of the full stop. It makes your writing clearer and ‘punchier’. It removes ambiguity. And, crucially, it makes life easier for your reader.
Of course, there’s a place for long, run-on sentences marshalled by the appropriate punctuation, but that’s a post for another day. For now, just learn when to stop.