Ten Top Tips for Effective Punctuation

Facility Managers spend a lot of time writing everything from business reports and tender documents to emails and out of order signs. Incorrect punctuation can confuse the reader or even completely change the meaning of the written word.  Taking care over punctuation and proper use of English can dramatically improve the effectiveness of your communication.  Here are some top tips on Punctuation relevant to facilities management:

  1. Commas (,) make the meaning of sentences clear by grouping or separating clauses, phrases, or words. Leaving commas out can change the meaning of a sentence completely: Sometimes you have to say “sorry, customer” to a sorry customer! The comma can also be used in place of ‘and’ or ‘or’ to make a list: Our services include facilitation, procurement and strategy development.
  2. Another use of Commas (,) is to join two sentences if followed by a conjunction such as ‘and’ or ‘yet’:  FM is a growing profession, yet many people are unaware of it. Commas are also used to bracket additional information within a sentence: The FM Guru Consultancy, established in 2003, is led by Martin Pickard.
  3. Semicolons (;) are used to highlight a pause in a sentence that is stronger than a comma but not as final as a full stop. Do not simply use the semicolon instead of a comma in order to make the text appear sophisticated. Try using a semicolon between two clauses that contrast each other – Many FM consultants have little practical experience; FM Guru team members have all worked as facility managers.
  4. Colons (:) are used to show that you are going to explain more about what you’ve just said. Colons show a move from something general to something specific. For example: FM Guru have worked for some big clients: Axa, AstraZeneca and, among others, Primark. Colons can also be used to introduce quotations: One client was very pleased: “The advice received from Martin and his team was invaluable.”
  5. Hyphens (-) are used to join two or more words to make a compound word, showing that the words have a combined meaning: state-of-the-art products and best-in-class services. With compound adjectives use a hyphen when the compound comes before the noun: well-known consultants and a first-class service but not when the compound comes after the noun: consultants that are well known and services that are first class. Remember that the combined meaning may be entirely different to the words’   individual meaning: A solid waste system is not the same as a solid-waste system
  6. Apostrophes (‘) are used to show that letters or numbers have been left out: It’s important that businesses don’t forget the lessons learned in the recession of ’09. This form is perfectly acceptable in emails but should be avoided in more formal business communications like letters, reports or tender submissions: It is important that businesses do not forget the lessons learned in the recession of 2009.
  7. Another use for Apostrophes (‘) is to show belonging. With a singular noun or most personal nouns, add an apostrophe plus s: FM Guru’s experience is extensive (The experience of FM Guru). With a plural noun that already ends in s, add an apostrophe after the s: We attach three months’ accounts (Accounts for three months).
  8. More Apostrophe (‘) rules apply to possessive pronouns, words like ‘its, hers, yours, and ours’, which are exceptions to the rule about using an apostrophe to show belonging. So, if ‘it’s’ is short for ‘it is’ or ‘it has’: it’s going to be a competitive tender, write it with an apostrophe, but if the meaning is ‘belonging to it’, then there’s no apostrophe: Each tender will be judged on its own merits.
  9. Full Stops (.) are used to mark the end of a sentence. An additional use is to highlight an abbreviation when expressed in lower case: e.g. or i.e. Abbreviations expressed in upper case should not normally use Full Stops: BIFM or RSVP. One area of Full Stop confusion is when using brackets.  A full stop appears inside the brackets, if the bracket contains a complete sentence: FM outsourcing advice is offered. (This includes both strategy and implementation.) The full stop appears outside of the brackets if the brackets don’t contain a complete sentence: Outsourcing advice is offered (including strategy and implementation).
  10. Exclamation and Question marks (! and ?) are special forms of full stop. A question mark is placed at the end of a sentence which is a direct question: How many FM Consultants are truly independent? Exclamation Marks are used at the end of a sentence or a short phrase which expresses very strong feeling: The best advice I ever received! This works well in writing that represents normal speech such as a quick email to a friend or when quoting a client endorsement; however it should be avoided in more formal documents as it gives a childish and almost surprised quality to the message: The business has been operating for seven years!

I am not suggesting that every facility manager needs to develop the grammar and punctuation skills of an Oxford scholar. The practical challenge of operating in FM is difficult enough, but we must beware of sending out unprofessional signals or even confusing our readers with the  wrong meaning.

Here are three different sentences. Which team do you want to work for?

  • The FM Team will be required to work twenty four-hour shifts.
  • The FM Team will be required to work twenty-four hour shifts.
  • The FM Team will be required to work twenty-four-hour shifts

27 thoughts on “Ten Top Tips for Effective Punctuation

    • A case of you say tomato etc.

      Most common in the UK is Facilities manager for the person (but some say Facility esp those from US businesses) and Facilities Management for the discipline.

      Most common in the rest of the world is Facility Manager for the person (but some say Facilities esp those countries with a British ex pat community) but Facilities Management (plural) for the discipline.

      As for why, the only plausible explanation I ever heard was that computer room outsourcing was a growing thing in the UK in the early 80s and some big companies like BT were marketing it hard under the name Facility Management. The term Facilities Management was therefore a convenient way of differentiating between the two.

      Or it’s just that we like to be different!

  1. When I was editing, I forbade the use of exclamation marks in printed features. The words should be strong enough. I literally threatened to break the fingers of anybody caught using one in an article 🙂

  2. I like to throw in both Facility and Facilities so as to show up on both sets of Google searches. As we all know, FM is useless because of FM radio, File Maker and Football Manager. I can’t even use http://www.fmguru.com because it belongs to a Filemaker developer from Colorado. (Hi Jeff)

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