Getting the Point: A panic-free guide to English punctuation for adults

by Jenny Haddon and Elizabeth Hawksley (Floris Books, 2006): 208pp, out of print, ISBN 978 086315 567 3.

Reviewed by Claire Trocmé

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This book is intended for those who missed out at school on the ins and outs of punctuation. It claims a broad readership, from professionals writing reports to students writing essays, school-leavers, journalists and other creative writers who want to improve their chances of getting published. The authors' experience as published novelists shines through.

Light-hearted

Immediately Lynne Truss comes to mind. About the same size as Eats, Shoots and Leaves, this book also intends to treat its subject lightly. Is this, then, just another publication attempting to cash in on the success of its predecessor? In a way, but the difference lies in the stated aims and, importantly, in the tone.

This book is openly didactic: it guides its readers by the hand through the basics. It does so without patronising, using light-hearted stories whose themes run throughout the book, supported by exercises on the same three themes – Dragons', The Whole Nut Café and Casanova on love – correctly cross-referenced to the answer key at the back.

Sound advice

From an editorial point of view, much of the information and advice is sound, the exercises are mostly well focused and clearly explained, and it is hard to imagine anyone being intimidated by this book. Expressive drawings successfully match and extend the humour in the stories.

The typography is clear, with helpful vertical running-heads, although there could be room for improvement. There are helpful sections at the end: two pages explaining elementary grammatical terms, a Guide to presenting manuscripts, Further reading including a mixture of substantial reference books and discursive titles, and more. And an index!

Serious blemishes

However, while the authors have produced a potentially very useful little book, they have also been let down not, I hope, by SfEP members. In this edition, there are serious blemishes that should not have found their way into print. You cannot explain direct and indirect questions in Chapter 7, then write in the next:

We have been asked what is the difference between italics and bold.

or say:

between four to eight

Well, authors might, but a copy-editor and a proofreader should have been there to eliminate such errors. This editor has a number of points to question, including some of the definitions, as well as a list of misprints including repeated and missing words, numbering errors, inconsistencies and impossible word breaks (speck-led!).

A surprising feature is that the authors don't acknowledge the existence of the en rule – probably a considered decision, but the em rule looks odd in lists. And what of the full stop at the end of the title on the dust jacket? How many students are going to punctuate their essay headings after using this little book? The full stop is also blocked on the spine. Now look at the title page: no full stop …

All at sea

If you know teenagers who are all at sea on punctuation, by all means offer them the corrected reprint which the publisher must bring out. If this book serves only one purpose – to instil in students the need to acknowledge their sources – it will be providing a useful service to our internet society. Who knows, it may even awaken in a few an interest that could, in time, blossom into an editorial vocation. Yet it is my hope that most professional editors will not feel the need for it.

[Floris Books are planning to publish a revision of this book, which should tackle the errors in this edition.]

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