How punctuation is more important than you might think

One exclamation mark too many could impact your online sales…

If you use social media such as Twitter you’ll be aware that pretty much every day is a ‘national day’ of some sort!

For example, ‘National Donut Day’ or ‘National Kindness Day’ even ‘National Rhubarb Day’ (which was in January this year).

Anyway, quite bizarrely, on my travels around the internet, I have discovered that there is also a national day purely dedicated to punctuation. Unsurprisingly it’s called “National Punctuation Day” and this year it will take place on Sunday 24th September and coincidentally, I found myself listening to a radio discussion on this very topic recently.

The general conversation was that some people – and I think that I might actually be guilty of this myself on occasion – find it virtually impossible to write an email or add information to a web page without placing an exclamation mark or sometimes even two, at the end of every sentence! See, I’ve just done it! …and again.

But what’s this got to do with selling online?

Well, this has more relevance than you might think.

Why do so many eBay listings look like they have been thrown together whilst the kettle was boiling?

Why do some people feel that it is unnecessary to check their punctuation and grammar?

And could an addiction to text speak, bad grammar, exclamation marks and other punctuation misuse have an impact on how well a product sells from an eBay listing description?

Before I go in to that, a theory I have as to why we all feel the need to add extras to the end of our sentences rather than a basic full stop, is that the internet has now made communication so easy that we have all started to disregard proper spelling, punctuation and grammar. Rather like the text speak of teenagers who are now so used to abbreviating words when text messaging, that they find it almost impossible not to use the text speak that they have become so accustomed to even when writing essays for school.

For example, what do you think this says? It was written by a 13 year old American girl about her summer holidays:

“My smmr hols wr CWOT. B4, we used 2go2 NY 2C my bro, his GF & thr 3 kids FTF. ILNY, it’s a gr8 plc.”

And just in case you can’t decipher it, it reads:

“My summer holidays were a complete waste of time. Before, we used to go to New York to see my brother, his girlfriend and their three kids face to face. I love New York. It’s a great place.”

What is that all about? Surely a 13 year old girl understands the difference between how school work should be written and a quick text to her friends? But, apparently not. Anyway, I digress. I was talking about punctuation.

The problem is this: in emails or on web pages, there isn’t really an easy way to convey your emotions. It is hard to illustrate sarcasm, enthusiasm, happiness or even anger.

And so when you write something in an email or in your eBay listing descriptions, it can very easily be misinterpreted by the reader because you have no control over how they are reading it and this makes us feel that we have to over explain or even over emphasise our words.

And of course the only way to do this is to use exclamation marks, smiley faces, underlining and capital letters to try and express ourselves more clearly and avoid being misunderstood.

Unfortunately, when we do this, our writing can become a mass of unnecessary punctuation. I recently overheard someone describing the overuse of exclamation marks as “Like a squadron of palace guards standing to attention.” Just like this !!!!!!!! Very apt.

Be seen and not heard

When you write everything in capitals, not only is it very difficult to read, but personally I always imagine the writer yelling their message at me which can immediately add to the problem of misinterpretation.

By the same token, when a sentence is followed by an exclamation mark I always read the sentence as if the person is again shouting or forcing me to take notice of their message.

Two exclamation marks or more tell me that this person is so excited that they can barely contain themselves and I have a feeling that this level of enthusiasm is almost always not intended, especially in emails.

So, how should you go about conveying enthusiasm and catching people’s interest in your eBay listing descriptions without the over use of exclamation marks, capital letters, smilies and such like?

Use a clean layout

Stick to just one or two colours, for example red and black. This way you can emphasise the important words in red and leave the rest black. Nice and easy on the eye and no need for capital letters.

Write short paragraphs

This will make your listing much easier to read and you can emphasise the important parts as bullet points.

Use left justified text

Follow the route that a readers’ eye would naturally take from one side of the page to the other – left to right. If you are reading via a natural path it makes the words easier to digest and understand.

Use easy to read fonts

Although it might look trendy, Comic Sans is not the best of fonts to decipher on screen. Stick to widely used fonts such as Times which are much easier to read.

Use descriptive words

Convey enthusiasm about your products by using powerful descriptive words within your description. For example, instead of writing: “Fab Digital Camera in brilliant condition, loads of features.” write “Digital Camera, pristine condition, high spec and simple to use.”

Don’t write full words in capital letters

This is shouting and will put people off, plus it’s incredibly hard on the eyes to read a big chunk of text that is all in capitals.

Always check your spelling and grammar and don’t use text speak

Vitally important. Pay attention to your spelling and grammar otherwise you will look unprofessional and the same goes for abbreviating words in your description. Don’t do it unless you are using eBay specific jargon such as BNIB (Brand New In Box) or similar.

If you excessively use exclamation marks, capital letters, text speak and gaudy colours, not only will your reader – yes that’s your potential buyer – probably have googly eyes by the time they have finished reading, they may not even get that far and give up before they have got to the important bits.

Far better to put together a listing that reads well, is clear and concise and catches people’s attention with your good use of descriptive words, not excessive unnecessary punctuation, poor spelling and grammar.

Remember, exclamation marks should only be used to express strong emotion and text speak should remain just that – for texting only. Avoid the use of both.

So next time you are writing your listing descriptions or you are sending an email to a potential buyer, colleague or client, check back over what you have written and weed out those gremlins that don’t need to be there – you may be surprised at the number of times you have subconsciously slipped unnecessary punctuation in! Oops, just did it again there.

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