Writer, beware the balcony.

There’s much to like about the balcony. Birds-eye view. Comfy seating. Plush carpet and pleasing acoustics. But your keyboard’s balcony—that elevated back row with numbers and symbols—is fraught with potential peril. Its tempting shortcuts can short-circuit your message—and your professional credibility. Be leery of these dodgy characters:

& (ampersand)

The ampersand appears frequently in titles and entity names, e.g: Director of Planning & Development; Gladys Knight & The Pips. The ampersand is not a substitute for the word and in commercial copy.

% (percent sign)

This symbol is appropriate in tables, on business forms, and in technical or statistics-laden text. However, refrain from using it in copy as a substitute for the word percent.

# (number sign, hash, pound sign)

Thanks to Twitter, this symbol may be the most in-vogue character on the entire keyboard. It would take a meaty treatise to cover all the ways it works. Avoid using it willy-nilly as a synonym for number or for pound. Consult your style book.

! (exclamation point)

This punctuation mark is the ubiquitous smiley face of email. (Thanks! Have a great weekend! Let me know if you need anything else!) But in commercial copy, follow the standard prescription for use, i.e., to terminate an abrupt, forceful utterance or outcry.

In case you missed it—or if you’d like to laugh again—here’s a classic bit from Seinfeld on the exclamation point.


One thought on “Writer, beware the balcony.

  1. JMO, good to see you after all this time! I’m going to bookmark your blog – excellent reminders that I need to pack into my brain. If only I had paid attention thirty years ago… You have a lot of material I need to catch up on; I hope you don’t mind me stalking your site.

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