Avoid Boring Writing: Part II (Punchy Punctuation)

I’m not going to write what I’d planned on writing.

In this post I was going to write about how boring writing is not only writing which uses too little punctuation and so drags on and on, but how it’s also writing which plainly uses incorrect punctuation.

It’s boring because is shocks you out of engaging with it.

To further explain how would be to write what I’d previously intended. But I said I wouldn’t, so I won’t.

However, I will say that I probably wouldn’t have been writing about what was boring. It’s likely I would have been writing about what I didn’t like. And that’s not quite the same thing. I have an opinion, but I’m not the arbiter of opinions.

I will explain the image though: It’s from my local postal depot. You see the misuse of punctuation here? When I was a permanently employed, full-time journalist I went on training courses like any good journalist should. One course was called ‘Sharpening Your Style’, hosted by PMA Media Training and run by a lady called Val. Val called exclamation marks, ‘screamers’.

I love this; it’s perfect. Because it is, in one word, what the function of ‘!’ is, and because it indicates a need for sensitive use. Like the boy who cried wolf, the more you ‘scream’ in writing the more desensitised and disinterested in the screams the reader becomes. Much like watching an unrelenting horror film, you know that you shouldn’t take the action seriously because the action is pretend. Film provides a safety net. In writing we don’t need that safety net.

We can buy fiction and know that it’s fiction but want to turn that knowing off for a bit. So if the action in a piece of fiction is continually SHOUTING!!!, the reader is shocked from interest and you’ve failed to allow the reader to suspend disbelief.

In non-fiction the damage is equally bad (or more so really, because it deals with real life). Try shouting facts at people and see how far you get. You likely won’t get very far at all apart from in winding them up.

It’s why people who regularly use capitals, or uppercase, in Twitter updates get blocked or unfollowed. They’re always shouting, and nobody wants to read what they deem shouts in every other post. Uppercase words are the big, important, domineering words of the literary world.

Screamers are the indicators of some intrinsically important bit of knowledge. An alert to the crucial.

But here’s the reason why I’m not writing about my thoughts on ‘incorrect’ use of punctuation, and mainly the overuse of screamers.

Who am I to judge everybody on their writing?

As much as it may seem that this is a prescriptive blog, it really isn’t. I’ll give some opinions and advice, but writers need to know their own works and audiences better than anybody else. As such, my thoughts on ‘correct or incorrect’ (and I’ll always be wary of hard and fast judgements), are merely those. Thoughts.

For this reason:

A good friend of mine speaks three languages. She loves cooking, and she also writes a blog about cooking which, and I say this hand on heart, is fantastic. She writes it in English.

English is not her first language. If that wasn’t impressive enough, she not only writes in English but she manages to always be engaging in its use. Here’s her blog; I challenge you to go there and not immediately feel hungry and inspired.

And if you don’t, then I secondarily challenge you to read one of her posts and not feel instantly engaged with. Tone is so important, and her love of cooking comes across in her posts brilliantly.

And you know what, she uses screamers. Maybe two to three times in a short post. Which isn’t something natural to me, but is perfect for her tone. If writing is art, as this blog suggests, hers is art which I wouldn’t/couldn’t ever be able to authentically produce. But it is art nonetheless.

And that, essentially, is why what I would have written about ‘incorrect’ use of punctuation is wrong, and I instead wanted to end on this. Know the rules of punctuation and then do with them as you wish.

Each form of writing requires appreciation of the power of punctuation, but it’s your choice as to how you use it.


Kevin Pocock


  1. Hey! Kev! Boring! Ooops… ;-)  I thought for a moment we were going to get a Phil McNumpty “I think paragraph and sentence are the same word” article. I think you’ve missed out one important point, though, or at least, only alluded to it in a fashion so subtle that it makes me think you’ve missed it…


    What is appropriate in journalism, or in a blog, or in an email, may or may not be appropriate in other contexts. I know that, in short pieces (comments, informal emails where I have some sort of history with the respondent), I tend to use a lot of … and ! I can see why “screamer” for the latter, but it’s not my usual usage. ! for me, more often than not, is rather “laughter”, it marks a humour point. And, often enough, it’s the last sentence of a paragraph, and I’ve edited out 3 others, because otherwise I’d have a para of 7 sentences with 4 ! in it!


    I can see it also as an enthusiasm point. Again, grammar must be, has to be, subservient to context. … is either “I’ll let you read the implication into this” or “You can imagine what follows…” Context will tell you which.

    As you well know, I LOATHE, with a passion, l33tsp3k. I don’t even like txt mch, nowtImn? But language does morph. Only yesterday I was reading a Kipling short story (I do like to Kiple! 😉 ) which used the phrase “mashing a tart”. To a modern eye, that probably reads as “beating up a prostitute”. So much for the age of innocence. Mashing, then, meant only flirting (I’ll guess, in the sense of “softening up”), whilst tart was simply a shortening of “sweetheart”.

    Funny ol’ world, innit? The problem with grammarians (or should that be grammaticians?) & rules lawyers is that they think grammar is the master. It’s not. It’s a servant. It’s the codification of how people USE  language. It’s not the definition of how they SHOULD. It’s also far more flexible than many seem to realise…

  2. Absolutely. Context is crucial, and I have only given it the slightest wink here.

    You’re bang on with your last par as well. My English and writing tutors always told me, “You have to know the rules, before you know when to break them” (I was a… ‘pioneering writer’ in my teens).

    Future posts will most certainly focus on grammar and context in some form or other, but thank you for adding such good points here!

  3. With havin so much written content do you ever run into any
    issues of plagorism or copyright violation? My website has a lot of
    unique content I’ve either created myself or outsourced but it seems a lot of it is popping it up all over the internet without my agreement. Do you know any techniques to help reduce content from being stolen? I’d really appreciate it.

    • Hi,

      That’s a great, and important, question.

      Honestly I’ve been quite lucky in this regard. So while I’m tempted to write a post myself on this subject, I suspect you’re after immediate steps from someone who’s had a bit more experience dealing with such situations!

      The following post has some good suggestions for protecting against (and then acting upon) copyright violations: http://socialmediatoday.com/blogging-painters/1459841/content-theft.

      And you might also want to keep an eye on the iCopyright blog (http://info.icopyright.com/blog-page) – that place has some good advice.

      Again, sorry I can’t give you any personal advice on this – I’d love to help directly if I could.


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