DeeTox Bad Punctuation

What are some of your punctuation questions when you’re writing? Do several continually frustrate you because you can’t remember what’s correct? You’re not alone. We all see poor punctuation in emails, reports, newspapers, documents and even briefs, but we’re also in a quandary as to what’s right.

To DeeTox poor punctuation, refresh your memory with this quick reference guide and refer to it or your office reference guide when you have questions. It’s 100 times more professional to get it right than to get it out too quickly.


  1. Separating main elements

The team worked on budget issues and end-of-month figures, and the year-end data had to wait.

  1. Separating items in a series

The team had focus, energy, and commitment to the results.

  1. Setting apart dialogue or quotations

My manager said, “Congratulations on the new client.”

  1. Separating introductory phrases

Steve’s cousin, the man in the dark glasses, just moved to town.

  1. Setting off parenthetical elements (Note the different meanings.)

Sally, thought Emily, needs a haircut.

    Sally thought Emily needs a haircut.


Use to separate two independent clauses.

My daughter needs braces; I’m saving money for them.

(Could also write as two sentences, or link them with a conjunction.)

To separate items already separated with a comma

She went to Paris, TX; Lebanon, PA; and Rome, GA

          The new officers are Max Nice, president; Nice Max, vice

president; Maxine Neet, treasurer.

Use a semicolo before a transitional expression: However, Therefore, Furthermore, Nevertheless

The lights went out; therefore, we have to study by flashlight.

Monday was a holiday; however, I went to the office.


Use a colon for lists.

  Pick up the following:  pencils, paper, and ink cartridges.

   You must have these items for the exam:

                   * Bluebook

                   * Guidelines

                   * Pencil

                   * Release form

After a formal salutation – even in e-mails.

Dear Mr. Clear:

          Dear Adam:

          Dear Committee members:

To indicate importance and/or “note what follows.”

We live in a Democracy: Get out and vote!



I won’t be able to make the meeting

                    You’re going to be just fine.

                    It’s a lovely day.

                    Who’s babysitting tonight?*

*Mind the confusion with the possessive whose


Add an ’S for singular possessives

                    She’ll be late for her doctor’s appointment.

                    The men’s (women’s/children’s) softball game is delayed.

                    Mark’s health is improving.

Add an S’ for plural nouns ending in S

                    The professor canceled the students’ classes.

                    Most sisters’ children are all in college.

                   The reports’ covers were ruined in the rain.

Mr. Jones’ car is for sale.

                    The quizzes’ answers are in the back.

Singular names that end in y, change to ies and add S’.

The lady’s dress                     The ladies’ store

Plurals add ES to the singular, then an ’.

                    The Thomases’ reunion was incredible.

                    The actresses’ contract was rejected.

Quotation marks: 

Enclose someone’s exact words.

            She asked, “Where do I go from here?”

Enclose personal words, thoughts or ideas.

          Marshall’s attitude is definitely, “live and let live.”

          Where did you get those “rags”?

 Periods and commas, always stay inside the quotation marks.

Please check off the last button, “undecided.”

“I can’t,” said Tim, “I have to file my taxes.”

Colons and semicolons, always stay outside the quotation marks.

At 9 a.m. you said, “The meeting is delayed”; it still hasn’t been rescheduled and it’s 2 p.m.

These are a few of the things she “demanded”: diet soda, sugar-free lemon drops, and sparkling water.

Question marks and exclamation points are fickle.

These punctuation marks stay inside ONLY when

it’s direct quotation.

He asked, “When is the next movie showing?”

She commented, “He’s amazing!”

“What brings you to town?” inquired Sarah.

They go outside when the whole sentence is either a question or an exclamation.

When did Tom say, “You can’t go”? 

The mother yelled, “It’s a home run”!


A reference book guides you to the correct grammar and punctuation: use it, study it, and memorize it because it’ll be your best friend in the long run.




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DeeTox Grammar Quiz Answers

To all of you who not only read this, but also took the quiz, kudos! Here are the answers:

Take this 12 question quiz and see how you do.

  1. Ben and ______ shared the cab to the airport.

 I (“I” is the subjective pronoun; “I shared the cab….”

2. The 2017 conference had _______ attendants than last year.

fewer (“Fewer” is quantitative – you can count the attendants. “Less” is non-quantitative. E.g.: “The 2017 conference had less excitement than last year’s.” You can’t count “excitement.”

3. Your manager said _______ doing an exceptional job.

you’re (You are doing an exceptional job.” “Your” is the possessive pronoun: Your manager liked your work.)

4. Let’s divide the project ________ marketing, finance, and IT.

 Among (“Among” is used with three or more entities, “between” is just for two.  Let’s divide the project between marketing and finance.)

5. Neither Pam nor I _______ going to the meeting.

 Is (“Neither” is an indefinite pronoun and is the subject; it’s singular. “Neither is going to the meeting.”)

6. My car had _____ engine replaced.

Its (“Its” is the possessive pronoun; “it’s” is a contraction for “it has” or “it is.”)

7. The new employee asked, “Where can I find the cafeteria”?

Incorrect (The “?” goes inside the quotation marks. It’s the direct quotation that’s a question. “Where can I find the cafeteria?”)

8. This is _____ speaking.

s/he (“This is she speaking.” Subjective pronouns are also used if they rename the subject. They will follow to be verbs, such as is, are, was, were, am, will be, had been, etc.)

9. Tell me where you found this.

Correct as is. (Please, please throw out “at” at the end of your sentences; it’s poor English.)

10. Please ______ those instructions on my desk.

 Lay (An easy tool: If you can substitute the word “put,” use “lay.” You “lie” on the couch or tell a “lie.”)

11. Each of the employees _______ taken the computer class.

has  (Same rule as #5. “Each” is an indefinite pronoun and the subject of the sentence; it’s singular. “Each has taken the computer class.”)

12. The report was delivered by my supervisor.

passive voice (In active voice you need an actor. Active voice has fewer words and identifies the subject or actor. 

The report was delivered by my supervisor. Ask, “Who delivered the report?” Answer: “my supervisor.” Active voice then: My supervisor delivered the report.” Watch for the verb “to be” and the preposition “by”; they usually identify passive voice.

I hope this helps you in your future writing.

When questions arise: and I’ll be happy to help you.


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DeeTox Poor Grammar

As one of the top writing toxins, poor grammar creeps into your writing without much awareness. You may have used improper grammar and no one’s corrected you; therefore, you think it’s right.

Take this 12 question quiz and see how you do. (I’ll give the answers tomorrow.)

  1. Ben and ______ shared the cab to the airport.

a. I   b. me   c. myself

2. The 2017 conference had _______ attendants than last year.

a. Less         b.  fewer

3. Your manager said _______ doing an exceptional job.

a. Your           b. you’re 

4. Let’s divide the project ________ marketing, finance, and IT.

a. Among              b. between

5. Neither Pam nor I _______ going to the meeting.

a. Is                    b. Are

6. My car had _____ engine replaced.

a. It’s      b. Its

7. The new employee asked, “Where can I find the cafeteria”?

a. Correct       b. Incorrect (if incorrect, please correct it.)

8. This is _____ speaking.

a. Her/him    b. s/he

9. Tell me where you found this _____.

a. At       b. (Correct as is)

10. Please ______ those instructions on my desk.

a. Lay     b. lie

11. Each of the employees _______ taken the computer class.

a. Has        b. have

12. The report was delivered by my supervisor.

a. Active voice       b. passive voice (If passive, change to active.)


For a brush-up and refresher: These may be remedial, and yet, vital to understand.

What exactly is grammar? It’s the words you decide to use to write complete sentences.

Good grammar ignites your documents, propels your message, and compels your readers to keep reading. Provocative prose connects with your readers. Take time to refresh the basics; relearn the importance of the eight parts of speech. What are they?

  1. Noun – person, place or thing
  2. Pronoun – take the place of nouns; me, my, you, your, his, her, its, their, etc.
  3. Adverb – describe/modify verbs, adjectives and other adverbs. They usually tell how, when, where, how much or to what degree.
  4. Adjective – describe nouns; adds information. Blue dress, hot day, ugly car, poor writing, quiet manner, etc.
  5. Preposition – show relationship: position or time. Above, beyond, between, into, next to, under, inside, etc.
  6. Conjunction – connectors: BOYSFAN – but, or, yet, so, for, and, nor
  7. Interjection – One you use more often than you realize and may not know its meaning: homework, look it up!
  8. Verb – Save the best for last; the most important part of speech – action! Everything you want your readers to do: read, reply, call, enlist, donate, proof, compare, sell, etc. Verbs create the picture you want your readers to envision.

           1a. Auxiliary verbs – the ones used most frequently and the least valuable – but necessary: be, do or have: Be: am, is, are, was,                   were; Do: does, do, did; Have has, had, have.

  1. Start with one aspect of good and correct grammar, use it, use it, and re-use it until you become its expert, then move on to another tool.



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How to DeeTox Poor Writing at Work and Home

How to DeeTox Poor Writing at Work and Home

Your writing toxins simmer in your writings and you may not realize how they are contaminating your messages: e-mails, reports, letters, memos, FB page, newsletters, and web copy. These toxins build up over months and sometimes years without your knowing it.

Make a professional – and personal – commitment to cleanse your writing toxins.

Five major writing toxins:

  1. Poor grammar
  2. Bad punctuation
  3. Unclear and weak syntax
  4. Not proofing
  5. Not writing for the reader

You can cleanse your writing and form new, good writing habits with the DeeTox Cleansing Method.

The DeeTox cleansing method:

  1. Have a good reference book by/on your desk at home and office. You can purchase and download my e-book, “The Guiding Write” or my “Quick Tools and Tips” from my website: Your reference materials are invaluable to refresh you grammar and syntax.
  2. If you don’t know the proper punctuation or the correct word – ask. Better to ask before your press the send button than to receive a reader’s edits. Become aware of your “usual” mistakes and correct them. If you know you have a tough time with “it’s” or “its” – study the right form: “it’s” – it is or it has; “The best part is that it’s done!” “Its” – the possessive. “Our manual is on its last revision.”

I almost always write “form” instead of “from.” I make an effort to notice and correct. What are some of your usual mix-ups?

Be open to feedback.

  1. Read, re-read and re-read. Does your writing make sense? To you maybe, but not necessarily to the reader. Have a co-worker or friend edit to find sentence fragments, run-on sentences or a confusing sentence. Read for comprehension, clarity, concrete images, correct and compelling syntax. (Even in technical writing, readers want a reason to follow your lead/directions.)
  2. Get two other people – one not in your department – to help proof for typos, misspellings and comprehension. Three sets of eyes produce valuable feedback and insight. It’s difficult to proof your own writing; you “thought” you wrote it a different way than what’s on the page. (Spellcheck is not the answer! “You” and “your” are correctly spelled, but wrong in syntax. See my example of “form” and “from.)
  1. Who’s your audience? Are they internal, external or both? Write for the reader. Do your readers have the same language, vocabulary and knowledge you do? Never assume they do. Delete jargon and acronyms if you’re writing to external audiences; explain an acronym and then you can use it throughout your document.

Give your reader specific information and tools to know how to proceed with your information.

I’ll go more in depth with the five toxins each week. When questions arise, please e-mail me: and I’m happy to answer your questions.

A DeeTox takes time: start using one tool and keep at it until it’s a positive habit, then move on to the next tool.

Until next week. Here’s to a good cleanse.

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Auto Response

Image result for funny auto response pictures

When you write your auto response for your readers, ask yourself if your readers have concrete information about your time away and return. You don’t have to tell them everything, and yet, it’s nice to describe a framework. All professional or personal emails you send as an auto response create a concrete image for your readers when written with the reader in mind.

My last email blast received dozens of auto responses and the examples below, I imagine, are a good sampling of others.

The vague:
1. I am out of the office with limited access to phone or email. Please direct all questions to… What time frame? When was day one and when will you return? The reader doesn’t know.
2. Travel Alert….I am out of office with NO CELL Coverage. Does this mean you’re completely out of communication? Again, see #1 – time frame?
3. Thank you for your email. I’m out of the office and will reply to your email upon my return. When will you return?
4. Thanks for your e-mail, I am out of the office, I will respond as soon as I come back. “Soon”: one of my favorite words. What does that mean? It’s so subjective: “soon” could be a few hours, a day, a week, three weeks?

5. I will reply to your email as soon as possible. Ah, yes, “as soon as possible”; see #4.

Your “soon” and my “soon” seldom connect. Let your readers know.


Before: Thanks for your e-mail, I am out of the office, I will respond as soon as I come back

After: Thanks for your e-mail, I am out of the office 8/3-18/17, I will respond before 8/23

Now your readers know when you left, when you’ll return and when they can expect to hear from you.

Be specific, be concrete, be detailed.

The Specific:

  1. I will be out of the office beginning Friday, July 21st, and will return on Tuesday, August 1.
  2. I am out of the office on vacation, returning August 14. During that time I have no access to phone or email.
  3. Sorry to miss your correspondence. I am away on PTO and will get back to my desk Tuesday after Labor Day.

These give the readers a time frame and a picture of your away/return time.

The “Get Out Of Town Fast”

Thx for Your message. I’m on holiday until August 8th, 2017 and will get back to you then.
Pls notify that my emails will not be forwarded to anyone.
In urgent cases you can contact x at

Please write out your response; it’s a business communication and not a text. Take the time to spell out all the words. The substitute contact gives your readers another option, which is good, and not necessarily needed in all instances.

Auto responses also need to be kept up to date. I received two responses telling me they’d be back two months ago! One told me she was out of the office from 12/20/15 and back 1/5/16. Okay.

Give the readers concrete information, the same way you’d like concrete information on the auto responses you receive.

Enjoy your time away.

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Describe “Big”

How often do you hear or read adjectives that really have a vague meaning to you?  “She signed a long-term contract.” “This project is worth a lot of money.” “The client’s office is a long way away.” “That was a $billion deal.” “The new office is on an acre-plus of land.”

Can you visualize “huge,” “a lot,” “long way,” “billion,” or “acre?” Yes, you might have some concept of money and acre, but what about huge and a lot, etc.? When you’re describing something to anyone make a word picture for him/her. Example: “She signed a three-year contract.” “This project is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.” “The client’s office is 42 miles from ours.”

“That was a $billion deal.”  Now, conjure up a billion? What does that look like? I looked it up:

  1. 1 billion seconds ago was 1951
  2. 1 billion minutes ago Jesus walked alone in Galilee
  3. 1 billion hours ago no one walked on the earth on two legs
  4. 8.4 hours ago DC spent $1 billion.
  5. Five F-35C Lightning II Fighter Jets
  6. Half of what American businesses lose per year due to poor writing skills.

“The new office is on an acre-plus of land.” Can you describe an acre to someone?

It’s 43,560 square feet -can you picture that? I don’t think so. The word picture: an acre is the size of your favorite football field. You can picture a football field, not 43, 560 square feet.

Describe in word pictures when you’re writing e-mails, briefs, policies, cover letters, and other documents. You want to make it easy for your reader to “get it”; the same as you want to understand and “see” what your writers mean. These are money savers too.

Describe “big.” It’s all relative to your reader or listeners. “A big mistake.” Did it ruin a project? Did it cost the company/you money? Did it hurt someone/thing? Was it a not billing your client for that extra hour? “Big” is different to all of us:

Specificity – word pictures – will help your readers, listeners and your bottom line.
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It’s ‘No’ Time

Mark’s overwhelmed, Sarah’s on deadline – again, Peter’s just lost a client, and all is not well in their worlds. One door to open is the “no” door.

Saying “no” to employees, supervisors, your boss, your spouse, best friend, whomever, might give you heartburn, but that heartburn is easier to deal with than stress and sickness. When Mark’s overwhelmed, where can he go to get back on an even keel? He’s added too much to his plate and is the “nicest guy in the office,” but…. This nice guy has said “yes” to every task he’s been asked to do – in his job description – plus three or four other tasks he’s not willing to say “no” to.

Sarah’s helped her team with the new client, the budget and the policy and procedure manual so they can all be completed by the end of the quarter; she’s doing three jobs instead of just one.

Peter’s new employee quit after 90 days – too much stress; he had to take over, fill in and then interview for that position. The added stress, activities and responsibilities he took on by himself obliterated his sense of humor and caused panic.

If Mark, Sarah, and Peter had said “no” to a few people – not to be mean, by a long shot – but to focus on their priorities, they might not be on the stress highway. Saying “no” to someone means saying “yes” to yourself.

You can’t be in two places at the same time, type three reports simultaneously, or drive, dictate and deliver.  When you attempt these feats your organizational skills go berserk, your activities management goes bonkers, and your deadlines go unheralded. You’re also giving much less than 100 percent to one or two tasks that may need more focus. Consequences abound when you take on more than you can handle: less productivity, scattered thoughts, poor results and poor health.

When you’re asked to do another project on top of the other projects you’re working on, ask the “how.” “How would you recommend I complete your task by 4 p.m. when I’m finishing up X’s project to take to the conference the day after tomorrow?” “How can I give you my best work when I’m overloaded now?” Then offer a “solution”: “We can get a temp agency to come help tomorrow.” “If your project is not urgent, can it wait until Friday when I can get X to help me?” Always keep the “yes” door open for both – or all – parties and you.

You can’t be everything to everybody. To be the best you, take a breath, prioritize and then say “no.”

Image result for stress

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