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Friday 24th May 2013 /
Never has such a little punctuation mark been so greatly misunderstood. So we decided it was only fair to give it the love it deserves.
Some people think of the comma as just the pawn of punctuation, in that it’s not quite as valuable as the full stop or the question mark, or as newsworthy as the infamously abused apostrophe.
But imagine reading what’s been written here so far, without any commas. You’d probably have given up wondering why nothing makes sense because that’s what commas do so well creating lists joining and setting off phrases avoiding confusion injecting rhythm and providing the necessary breathing spaces. See, you miss them when they’re not there.
Sometimes the best way of demonstrating the comma’s importance is with amusing examples:
On a road sign by a school –
‘SLOW CHILDREN CROSSING’ instead of, ‘SLOW, CHILDREN CROSSING’
On a curriculum vitae –
‘My interests include: cooking dogs, shopping, dancing and reading.’
Without commas, you’d have motorists puzzled at why children were moving at a snail’s pace. And probably scare off prospective employers at your implication of canine culinary activity.
However, it’s not just leaving commas out that causes problems. Many people are guilty of overusing them, too, ending up with clunky, rambling writing, that also tends to be made up of very, very long sentences when, really, a full stop to break things up would have been a much better choice.
Commas are brilliant for separating contrasting ideas in the same sentence, or to set off expressions that interrupt the flow of your writing. And of course, lists of three or more elements are much easier to digest when broken up with commas.
Both in print and online, we appreciate that language and punctuation evolves. But overall, we believe the little tadpole-like nine-shaped creature deserves respect – almost all writing looks, flows and feels better for it.
From the spaghetti tree to the pinana fruit, April Fools’ Day has been the inspiration for some of the quirkiest, most imaginative and downright brilliant hoaxes. Here, we share with you our five favourite April Fools’ jokes of all time.
1. Spaghetti grows on trees
Did you know, that besides being famous for clocks, chocolate and banks, Switzerland is also home to the humble spaghetti tree? Don’t worry if you didn’t – you’re not alone. Thousands were also surprised to learn this in a 1957 episode of Panorama.
Apparently, thanks to a very mild winter and the virtual elimination of the insidious spaghetti weevil, Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper spaghetti crop.
And, who would have thought it… the announcement was accompanied by footage of Swiss peasants harvesting strands of spaghetti from trees.
Huge numbers of viewers fell for the hoax, with many calling the BBC wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti tree. To which the BBC’s tongue in cheek reply was, “Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”
2. A typographer’s dream holiday destination
This elaborately crafted hoax published in The Guardian in 1977 is one of the most successful in British newspaper history.
Essentially it consisted of a special seven-page supplement devoted to San Serriffe, a small republic that was said to be in the Indian Ocean.
The two main islands were named Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse – and were semicolon-shaped. Its capital was Bodoni, and its leader was General Pica. Through a series of articles, The Guardian’s journalists went into great detail about the geography and culture of this obscure little nation.
The accounts were so detailed and evocative that The Guardian’s phones rang off the hook with readers seeking more info. And travel agents tried in vain to secure flights to this elusive holiday spot.
Only a few people noticed that everything about the island was named after printing / typographic terminology.
3. The left-handed Whopper
What do you do when you’re Burger King and 32 million Americans are left-handed? Create a left-handed Whopper of course! On April 1st 1998 Burger King published a full page ad in USA Today announcing this latest burger addition to their menu.
According to the ad, it would contain the same ingredients as the original but all the condiments would be rotated 180 degrees, supposedly making it more convenient for their left-handed customers to enjoy.
In just one day, thousands of customers had gone into restaurants seeking out the new Whopper. And many others requested their own right-handed version.
4. Whistling carrots
The arrival of the genetically modified whistling carrot in 2002 wasn’t such a bad idea. If only it were true!
Tesco published an ad in The Sun announcing the successful development of this modified vegetable. The ad explained that the carrots had been specially engineered to grow with tapered air holes in their side. When fully cooked, these air holes would cause the vegetable to whistle.
5. Say hello to the pinana
While we’re on the subject of fruit and veg, in 2009 Waitrose announced it was stocking an exotic new fruit: the pinana – a pineapple and banana hybrid.
The ad read: “Fresh in today and exclusive to Waitrose… If you find that all Waitrose pinanas have sold out, don't worry, there's 50% off our essential Waitrose strawberries.”
Worried that nobody reads your internal newsletter? That your corporate magazine just clutters up desks? Check out our essential ingredients for sparkling internal communications.
Get internal comms wrong and they become a waste of time and money. But get them right, and you’ll have passionate, motivated staff – and a valuable way to connect with them.
The Big Idea
Every piece of communication needs one of these. An objective. A purpose. A raison d'être. Without one, you’ll end up with a muddled creation lacking in direction and focus. So, the first questions you should ask (and be able to answer) are: why are we doing this? What do we want it to achieve?
Magazines should always be viewed as a whole. And internal ones are no exception. That means thinking about which content to place at the beginning, middle and end.
Short, bite-size, important news is best near the beginning – if people only flick through the first few pages, this is what they’ll see. Put longer, more in-depth stories in the middle. Here, you’re targeting people sitting down to read your magazine with a cuppa. Keep anything more playful and less significant for the end – you don’t want to put people off with anything too heavy.
Live your values
Internal comms are a great way of celebrating and expressing your brand’s values – and there’s no better way to spread your organisation’s message than through its people. So whether you’re passionate about adventure or serious about sustainability, use your internal comms to inspire and motivate your employees and bring your brand to life.
A two-way thing
One of the most important results of communicating internally is to give your staff a sense of belonging; to encourage them to feel like they’re part of something bigger. We think the best way to do this is by getting them involved. Get them to contribute. Ask their opinions. Find out what they like, and what they don’t. And listen. Use their feedback to do things better next time.
The spice of life
You’ve guessed it: variety. It’s the only way to keep your magazine interesting, and in people’s hands – rather than in the bin. While some staff might want to read about Keith’s holiday in Cornwall, others are only interested in getting the latest on that exciting new business venture. One thing’s for sure though – nobody wants to trawl through pages and pages of samey content. The best internal magazines mix things up. Long with short. Old with new. Work with play. It’s just a case of striking the right balance.
If you’re struggling to find that balance, why not get in touch? We’ve worked our specialist magic on internal comms for businesses in virtually every sector. You can drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01225 731373.