Punctuation Matters. Period. 07/15/2011
In an earlier post I said that good writing is not synonymous with proper punctuation, and it's not. But the PURPOSE of punctuation is clarity, and if you're not clear, you're not writing well.
Maybe you know the book, Eats Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss. The title reveals the necessity of accurate punctuation, since a panda eats [bamboo] shoots and leaves, whereas Eats, Shoots and Leaves would be a different book altogether – likely a story about an outlaw in the old west.
Not all punctuation failures are this clever, of course. Some are head scratchers, and never do quite resolve themselves. This is from an ad in the free section of craigslist.org:
goodwill wont take nice couch with slight tear under arm rests top end not noticeable unless you pull up
In the time it takes to untangle this verbal train wreck, I've already moved on to the next ad. Here's another that could use some punctuation:
Free little girls toys
If you're daunted by the prospect of punctuation, start small. Write a sentence and say it out loud (or under your breath if you share an office). If there's a place where you pause when speaking, consider inserting a comma. Then run your writing through a spell and grammar checker. It may not recognize the need for "to" instead of "too" but if it catches just one error, you're one step closer to good, clear writing.