Six meter readers attended my Keys to Error-Free Writing class. Given their job of traipsing around outside reading electric meters, they don’t write much. But all of them were interested in learning more about business writing.
If you write a lot, using some punctuation marks is second nature to you. You many never think about the periods, commas, and apostrophes that dot your writing. But for the meter readers, who have not thought much about punctuation since leaving the classroom, each mark held surprises.
The colon was one such surprise.
Colon? Sure, a colon appears in places like 2:30 p.m. and 1:4 ratio and Dear Mr. Brown:
But in a sentence?
Yes. The colon is a wonderful punctuation mark that tells the reader “Get ready. Here it is” or “Here they are.” I think of the colon as the drumroll that promises the immediate arrival of something or someone.
These colons say “And here it is” or “And here they are” after the sentence of introduction:
She is available on only one day: Monday, November 16.
We have narrowed our choices down to two candidates: Nadia Brunei and Klaus Bieber.
The fee includes the following items: materials, follow-up, and travel.
Two options are available to us: flying, at a cost of $250 per person, or taking the bus, which costs about $80 per person.
But where would a meter reader or someone who does not write much on the job use a colon?
There are lots of places where a colon fits naturally in day-to-day personal messages. I offer these examples:
Kelli has asked for three things for Christmas: a North Face jacket, an IPod gift card, and the last book in the Twilight series.
People have already volunteered to bring these things to dinner: pumpkin pie, green salad, dinner rolls, and corn soufflé.
Here is Grandma’s new address: ___________.
You know where they always go on vacation: Disneyworld.
These are his exact words: “She doesn’t understand me.”
If you are thinking you can live without the colon, you are right. The sentences above can survive without them, like this:
Kelli has asked for a North Face jacket, an IPod gift card, and the last book in the Twilight series for Christmas.
People have already volunteered to bring pumpkin pie, green salad, dinner rolls, and corn soufflé to dinner.
Grandma’s new address is ___________.
You know they always go to Disneyworld on vacation.
His exact words were “She doesn’t understand me.”
But the colon offers a setup, an introduction, a signal that says, “Pay attention. Here comes the information.” That is why I encourage you, meter readers and others, to welcome the colon into your personal and professional writing. It’s the drumroll that gets your readers’ attention.