The comma. It’s just a tiny little squiggle amid the words that convey your marketing messages, your instructions, your requests, and even your declarations of love. And yet, as tiny as it is, it has an important purpose.
A comma, or the lack of one, can change the meaning of your words and lead either to clear communication or confusion.
It can even lead to multi-million dollar lawsuits, as I reported in this Active Rain post.
Too many commas are a common problem.
Some folks operate under the myth that they should place a comma anywhere they might pause when talking or reading from a document. That’s a misconception.
When speaking, we often pause where no comma need appear. Then we incorrectly insert those pauses into our written words. Although it sounds right when we’re just thinking the words, the result is a choppy, hard to understand sentence.
Some writers use commas where they need to do a bit of re-writing and insert a period instead. I’m sure you’ve seen those run-on sentences that go on for 6, or 8, or even 10 lines. A reader can get lost before reaching the end.
I tend to lean toward overusing commas myself, and often remove a good handful when I proofread my work.
Here’s the rule: You don’t necessarily need a comma everywhere you pause.
On the flip side of this, anywhere you DO place a comma the reader should/will pause. And that’s where the confusion begins. When you pause where no pause belongs, the meaning of the sentence becomes garbled. The reader becomes confused.
To see if you’ve placed a comma where it doesn’t belong, read your writing out loud. Pause at every comma. If the pause sounds wrong or if it changes your meaning, delete the comma.
That brings us to another rule – one with an exception, of course.
Never place a comma between the noun and the verb. Your reader will pause, and your sentence will not make sense.
This is an error that I’ve been seeing a lot in real estate blog posts. It goes something like “The buyer, submitted a low offer.” Or “The listing agent, failed to return calls asking for showing appointments.”
It’s just – clunky. It feels like there’s something up in the air, missing from the sentence. Worst of all, it makes the reader stop and look at the words. That’s something you don’t want. (More on that in a minute.)
The exception to the rule: when you place a nonrestrictive appositive after the noun.
What’s an appositive? Briefly, it’s a description. The appositive is set apart from the rest of the sentence by commas.
For example: “The buyer, a real estate attorney, spent two hours reading the HOA documents.” Or “Rowdy, my faithful dog, met me at the door.”
Conversely – try reading those sentences without the commas. More confusion.
To learn everything you need to know about using commas, visit Grammar Girl. Read the first article, then scroll to the bottom to find 11 more. (Yep, there IS a lot to know about using commas.)
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“When the meaning is unclear there is no meaning.”
The ultimate goal in writing real estate marketing copy
When you set out to writing marketing copy – or really anything at all – your goal is to have your thoughts and words understood. If you seek to persuade, they should persuade. If you seek to inform, they should inform.
The ultimate goal, in my humble opinion, is that your readers should not even notice the words themselves. You should attempt to make the words disappear while the reader absorbs the message you intended for them.
Think of your words like individual items in a cosmetics kit. When cosmetics are artfully applied, no one notices the individual items. They simply notice a beautiful face.
When cosmetics are used inexpertly, onlookers notice things like bright blue eye shadow or pink splotches of color on the wearer’s cheekbones.
When you manage to make your words disappear, it becomes like taking an idea from your mind, sending it out through your fingers to your readers’ eyes, and depositing it directly to their minds.
All they notice is the message – not the individual words.
Reaching that goal is not easy and not always attainable, but do all you can to avoid giving your reader a reason to stop and look twice at your words.
Read aloud, proofread, and edit your work until there are no typos, no misspellings, no misused words, no misplaced modifiers, and no incorrectly placed commas to make your readers stumble and stop.
P.S. If you get stuck, get in touch. Writing for real estate is what I do.