Advice How to write Writing

Why you should be a punctuation minimalist

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At Articulate, we believe that needless punctuation is a speed bump for readers. We’re punctuation minimalists and you should be too.

How people read

People don’t read text continuously. Instead, their eyes jump forward a few words at a time, every quarter of a second or so.

But about 15 percent of the time, their eyes jump back, often when they don’t understand something or if they trip over some page furniture like unnecessary punctuation.

Needless punctuation slows readers

How people read online

It’s even worse when people go online. Now their eyes are hopping about the page like a barefoot child on hot sand, as you can see in this eyeball tracking heat map of a typical webpage:

Heatmap showing how people read a page online

Avoiding punctuation speed bumps

Our approach is to minimise everything that gets between our words and the reader’s brain. This means:

  • Replacing punctuation marks with words.
  • Only capitalising proper nouns and the first word in a sentence or headline. Yes, this includes the internet.
  • Not using full stops in abbreviations such as Mr, Dr, eg or ie.
  • Not using an ‘Oxford comma’ before the 'and' in a list.
  • Writing dates without superscripts (eg 12 July 1969).
  • Avoiding acronyms wherever possible.
  • Avoiding trademark bugs wherever possible.
  • Not using italic text because it’s too busy.
  • Using single quotes for speech not double quotes. It’s half as much punctuation!
  • Only one space after a comma.
  • Spelling out numbers from one to ten.
  • Choosing short words instead of long ones. (This is good for other reasons too.)
  • Ruthless editing. (See: Ten ways to slim down obese copy.)

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We know that some of these choices are controversial. But we have a good reason for preferring our choices: we want to make it easier for people to read what we write.

Articulate Punctuation rules

Learn more

Want to learn more? Download our guide to writing effective copy.

better business writing

Matthew Stibbe

Matthew is founder and CEO of Articulate Marketing.