Pat Iyer's Blog

She Lost a Job Opportunity Because of Punctuation Errors

I know this because she lost a job with me. I looked at countless resumes when I had my own business. The moment I saw a typographical error, grammatical mistake, or punctuation error, I stopped reading.

Do you think that’s unfair? Are you saying to yourself, “Anyone can make a mistake”? Yes, they can, and I do, too. A resume, however, represents what you can do. Those who can’t proofread their introduction to a potential employer may make other—and bigger—mistakes.

I worked hard to build my business. The work that I sent out to lawyers represented me, and I needed employees who shared my attention to detail.

If you think punctuation is that boring thing you had to learn in grade school, reconsider. A parenthesis, comma, or semicolon could determine your future.

In fact, just this week I heard of an expert witness who sent a potential employer a sample of her work product. The employer counted 7 typos in the sample. Really? You must be able to edit and proofread.

In this post, I’ll tackle a few of the less-understood rules of punctuation.

Parentheses and Brackets

These confuse a lot of people. When they are used separately, brackets usually indicate that something has been added to a quotation—not by the original speaker.

Harry told me, “We went to the Dinosaur Museum [that’s the one on 45th St.], and Philip had a great time.”

It doesn’t come up a lot in writing, but I thought I’d get it out of the way.

Parentheses set off words within a sentence or text. Usually, they add information about something else in the sentence. The sentence should always make sense without the information within the parentheses.

  • Mark worked very hard (and for many hours) on the project.
  • Mark worked very hard on the project.

The sentence makes sense without “and for many hours.” The length of time Mark spent on the project adds emphasis to his hard work.

You could think of the words within parentheses as less important but adding color.

Punctuation and Parentheses (and Brackets)

Many people get lost here. I am here to help you get found again.

(Sometimes an entire sentence is within parentheses.)

A period almost always comes directly at the end of a complete sentence, and the above sentence is no exception. A phrase within parentheses at the end of a sentence gets different rules, though.

  • Here is an example (with an ending phrase enclosed within parentheses).
  • Here, the phrase within parentheses is not a complete sentence. It’s part of the sentence, so the period comes after the closed parentheses.

The easiest way to remember this is:

When a parenthetical phrase equals a complete sentence, it ends with a period before the closed parenthesis.

When a parenthetical phrase is part of a longer sentence, the period comes after the closed parenthesis.

Brackets within Parentheses

The brackets were feeling abandoned and lonely, so I had to return to them.

Our primary work in the administration of placebos to hospitalized mental patients was with a pilot group of schizophrenics. (We administered similar tests in another hospital [A Controlled Study with Placebos, Journal of Mind-Body Research, January, 2005], but we have not correlated the results of the two tests.)

This kind of placement is most likely to show up in a curriculum vita or annotated bibliography, but you never know into what kinds of punctuational crisis life may propel you.