Monday, September 24, 2007

Why You Don't Need More Punctuation Marks

As promised, I am writing about lesser-known punctuation marks again. While I am a fan of the interrobang, as posted in yesterday’s ramblings on obscure punctuation marks, I doubt the need for the sarcasm and irony marks in more formal writing.

If you mean your piece to be humorous, whether through sarcasm or a more direct way, your words should carry that meaning. When you feel the need to use a mark to tell your reader that you are “just kidding” either you have not written well enough to make your point clear or you are insulting the intelligence of your reader. Smilies or their punctuation equivalent cannot replace clear, evocative writing in an article or fictional story.

During communication on fora and via instant messaging, however, those marks could be the difference between making yourself understood and upsetting someone needlessly. These media make down-and-dirty communication possible, but the temptation to post without proofreading for meaning and implication combines with the lack of physical and tonal clues to meaning to make sarcasm difficult to detect. Even e-mail can benefit from the clarity that such marks bring.

Articles and fiction that you mean for people to read months and years after their composition, however, require more finesse than a simple crooked exclamation point or tilde can provide. If you cannot create sentences and paragraphs that make clear your tongue-in-cheek take then work on your writing and build your vocabulary. More punctuation marks won’t strengthen your characters or descriptions.