Have you ever started to write something, maybe got interrupted and didn’t finish it?
Did you go back to your draft, re-read it and think: What on earth was I going on about?
Chances are, you didn’t add any commas or full stops as your words flowed onto the line; you didn’t get to review it before that interruption.
I’ve done it myself. You are in the moment. You have pictures dancing in your mind and this is what you are writing about, it’s just flowing. But do you pick up where you left off and then just send it?
Hopefully not! As mentioned before, without punctuation, it may no longer make sense – to you or your reader! So how do you know which squiggles, dots and dashes to use, and where?
The easiest way to start is to read out loud what you have written. Notice where you pause to take a breath; quite possibly that’s where a comma will go. Put it in. But notice whether there is nowhere in the draft where you actually did take a breath, and when you reach the end you are almost gasping! Have a look and see if you have written a reeeaaally long sentence.
You can probably break it into two, or even three sentences. Where there’s an “and” or a “but”, delete it and insert a full stop, or period, and then see if you can just re-jig the following word to start a fresh sentence. Long sentences can be boring; the reader wants to know what the point of the sentence is, and if they have to work too hard, or retain too much information in their minds to find out what the purpose of the sentence is (just like this one) they may stop reading altogether!
And just to convince you, here’s a tale that illustrates how costly a missing comma can be:
A travelling sales rep of a large produce company e-mailed his boss one day to find out if he should accept the price he had been quoted for a quantity of produce. The boss replied: “NO PRICE TOO HIGH”. With this in mind, the sales rep bought an entire lorry load for $50,000, only to learn on his return that what the boss had intended to say was: “NO, PRICE TOO HIGH”.
Learn more about the importance of proofreading your work – even better, have someone else do it for you as they will have a fresh eye and see things that were invisible to you.