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Writer's Tip: Forget About Ellipses

Folks, punctuation is great. I’m a huge fan of it. I’m a passionate defender of the Oxford comma, and I love a good semicolon, when it’s used properly (although it almost never is).

But you know what punctuation mark I’ve been seeing more and more of lately?

The ellipsis.

And I’m here to tell you to forget that ellipses exist.

For those of you who aren’t grammar snobs, an ellipsis is a series of periods—usually three in a row—that signals a pause in the content. It can also be used to express doubt.

For example!

“This content is great…but I’d like to see some revisions on Monday.”

Or!

“…I’m not sure I like the placement of those ellipses.”

Or!

“This isn’t quite what I asked for…”

Where have I been noticing these ellipses, you may ask?

Photo by Laurent Renault/Hemera / Getty Images

Photo by Laurent Renault/Hemera / Getty Images

All over my correspondence. Professional emails that are littered with ellipses. Across the digital advertising universe—in Google search and display ads, in pop-ups, in email newsletters.

Now that I’ve seen more ellipses than my poor eyes can handle, I’m here to give you some writerly advice.

For the love of all things grammatically correct—stop using ellipses in your content.

I beg of you.

Ellipses have a hallowed place in fiction. You’ll find them scattered ever so sparingly in various novels, usually in character dialogue. Totally appropriate, as long as they aren’t overused.

Ellipses also have a place in casual, digital conversation. Texting or Gchatting with a friend who’s just asked you a question to which you have no idea how to respond?

Easy!

However.

Ellipses really don’t have a place in marketing or otherwise professional content. They’re too vague, too colloquial, and all around, fairly unprofessional. Don’t sprinkle them throughout your emails to colleagues or contractors. Don’t drop them ever so casually into your Google search and display ad copies. Don’t throw them around in your pop-up ads, in your remarketing text, or in your monthly business newsletters.

When in doubt, ask yourself this simple, foolproof question.

“Is what I’m writing work-related?”

If the answer is yes, don’t string a series of periods together, no matter how tempted you may be. Back away from the ellipses, and nobody gets hurt.

Am I being a little dramatic here? Absolutely. Should ellipses really be so strictly forbidden? Not necessarily. I’m sure a few exceptions could be rounded up, in which they’re totally acceptable to use.

But today, we’re not talking about exceptions.

We’re talking about the rule.

And the rule is—forget that ellipses exist. Don’t use them in your marketing copy. Stop using them if you’re currently in the habit. Learn to hate them with the same fiery passion usually reserved for the absence of the Oxford comma.

Or, I suppose, for the presence of the Oxford comma, if you’re on that side of this war.

So! Put those ellipses away. Save them for the Great American Novel you’re working on. They’ll fit right into those uber-dramatic dialogue scenes, filled with pensive pauses and dubious arguments.

What are your punctuation pet peeves? Have you used the ellipses lately in your own work? Are you prepared to defend them to the death, or do you want to burn them on a punitive, punctuation pyre? (Alliteration for the win.)

Blow it up in the comments!