Life is all about relationships.  People have relationships with other people, creatures, and things; with music and dance, books, words and punctuation in writing. Relationships and writing are crucial in life.  Specifically, we even have a relationship with the semicolon, that mid-line dot with a comma curved beneath it like one half of a spooning couple.


Like it or not, the semicolon is a useful and necessary punctuation mark to use in our writing.  An occasional person, even an academic, thinks it should be eliminated from our options and our culture.  But, eliminating the semicolon shouldn’t and can’t be done.  Why?  The semicolon connects and clarifies relationships, those things we can’t live normally without.


I recently read a well-written article by a business consultant.  Surprising to me, he used all periods instead of connecting related thoughts with semicolons.  Doing that made his writing a bit choppy with many short sentences (complete thoughts, also known as independent clauses) and left a few question marks on my mind.  Although he used “relationship” a few times, he seemed to have a relationship problem with the semicolon.  Please consider the following two paragraphs and then my redo of affected sentences in italics.


First paragraph:

“After the show, reconnect as promised in a timely manner. Offer something of value related to the conversation you had with someone. What you offer does not have to be tied to your product or service. It needs to be relevant to the prospect or customer. They’ll remember that a lot longer than anything else.”


He offers facts and helpful tips.  Question: What in that paragraph does “It needs to be relevant to the prospect or customer” relate to?  It does not relate directly to the first sentence.  It relates somewhat to the second sentence and to the last.  But, it relates directly to and connects completely and logically with the third sentence; it finishes the third sentence, explaining what is not required and what to do.


So, my recommendation employs the strong semicolon to connect the two related independent clauses:  “What you offer does not have to be tied to your product or service; it needs to be relevant to the prospect or customer.”  The connection could also include a transitional word (underscored):  “What you offer does not have to be tied to your product or service; however, it needs to be relevant to the prospect or customer.”


Second paragraph:

“And, measure your results. A trade show is the same as any other marketing tactic. Its purpose is to generate results. Don’t guess as to whether the show was successful. Know for sure.”


Again, great information!  But, again, related independent clauses that don’t tie directly to other sentences in the paragraph should be connected to complete and clarify the writing:  “A trade show is the same as any other marketing tactic; its purpose is to generate results.”  See the relationship and its completion?  “Its” relates to and defines “trade show”; therefore, those two clauses should be joined.  Finally, “Don’t guess as to whether the show was successful; know for sure.”  Again, the second clause relates directly to the first and completes the logic.


Was the original author’s usage wrong?  Technically, it wasn’t; and one of his goals may have been merely to avoid writing long sentences while keeping readers’ attention.  But, did I improve his text and its logical flow by connecting relationships via the semicolon?  With great respect for healthy relationships, for the semicolon and the clarity it can provide, and for a spooning couple whose two members complete each other–I believe that I did.


What do you think about the semicolon in writing?

Vickie L. Weaver

Vickie L. Weaver

Owner at Writestyle
Writing has been an important talent and part of my life since I was a child.Professionally, after decades of employment for others, I founded Writestyle in 1996 to provide writing, editing, proofreading, training, and more to clients worldwide (www.writestyle.com).Clients often call my work “magic.”I have written and/or edited for “Coexistence Magazine” (national), for “Ohio Magazine,” and for various newspapers.In addition, I have edited or contributed to the writing of numerous books.Personally, I have written in various genres.I have always composed poetry; as such, I have won awards and publication for some of my poems, and I am compiling a book of my poetry.One of my children’s books is set for publication.With my second husband, family and friends in Ohio, I enjoy music and dance, aid charitable causes, and strive for beauty and harmony in life.
Vickie L. Weaver

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