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  • Marina Catherine Editing Services

How the insertion of one little comma could have averted a court case.

As a member of a number of business groups, I've often come across business owners who favour the idea that you should dive straight into promoting your business, product, or service on social media and the internet. They are of the opinion that you shouldn't wait until everything is perfect, nor should you worry too much if your writing skills are not quite up to scratch. Their premise is that the quicker you get some advertising, a social media presence or a website up and running, the better.

Now, I agree there is sometimes merit in this approach, especially for people like me who can get bogged down in the details and spend far too long weighing up the pros and cons of every approach.

However, this 'don't look before you leap' plan of attack inherently contains flaws. Your website, social media presence, and advertising copy are very important. They convey to the world your level of professionalism and attention to detail. But, perhaps more importantly, errors in grammar and punctuation could end up costing you more than your professional reputation; they could also cost you a lot of money.

A recent case in Maine, U.S.A. demonstrates how the omission of one little comma led to a lawsuit that could potentially cost a business a lot of money. I won't go into the entire case here, but in summary, the lawsuit was initiated by delivery drivers for a milk company who believe they are entitled to overtime for specific duties. Their case rests on the premise that one of Maine's overtime laws is ambiguous because it is written in a way that leaves room for interpretation. In short, one sentence lacks an Oxford comma.

I won't bore you with a grammar lesson on the Oxford comma - you can find info on that here - but basically the Oxford comma is used to aid clarity when listing three or more things.

Apparently, the rule makers in Maine didn't use the Oxford comma when they listed duties that were disqualified from overtime and this omission led workers to believe they were entitled to it, hence the court case. Although judges ruled against the employees in the first hearing, at the time of writing this, the workers had just won their appeal, and the case will now be heard in a lower court.

So, grammar lessons, workers, and court cases in Maine aside, the point is, if your grammar, punctuation, and writing skills are not the best, it really could save you a lot of time, money, and heartache to get a professional to proofread your business content before you release it to the public.

Marina Catherine
Editing and copywriting

Phone: 0414 746 696
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