Facility Managers spend a lot of time writing business reports, emails or tender documents. Incorrect punctuation can confuse the reader or even completely change the meaning of a sentence. Taking care over punctuation and proper use of English can dramatically improve the effectiveness of your communication. Here are some top tips on Punctuation relevant to facilities management:

  1. Commas (,) make the meaning of sentences clear by grouping or separating clauses, phrases, or words. Leaving commas out can change the meaning of a sentence completely: Sometimes you have to say “sorry, customer” to a sorry customer. The comma can also be used in place of ‘and’ or ‘or’ to make a list: Our services include facilitation, procurement and strategy development.
  2. Another use of Commas (,) is to join two sentences if followed by a conjunction such as ‘and’ or ‘yet’: FM is a growing profession, yet many people are unaware of it. Commas are also used to bracket additional information within a sentence: The FM Guru Consultancy, established in 2003, is led by Martin Pickard.
  3. Semicolons (;) are used to highlight a pause in a sentence that is stronger than a comma but not as final as a full stop. Do not simply use the semicolon instead of a comma in order to make the text appear sophisticated. Try using a semicolon between two clauses that contrast each other – Many FM consultants have little practical experience; FM Guru team members have all worked as facility managers.
  4. Colons (:) are used to show that you are going to explain more about what you’ve just said. Colons show a move from something general to something specific. For example: FM Guru have recently worked for some big clients: Axa Insurance, BAE Systems and Primark. Colons can also be used to introduce quotations: One client was very pleased: “The advice received from Martin and his team was invaluable.”
  5. Hyphens (-) are used to join two or more words to make a compound word, showing that the words have a combined meaning: state-of-the-art products and best-in-class services. With compound adjectives use a hyphen when the compound comes before the noun: well-known consultants and a first-class service but not when the compound comes after the noun: consultants that are well known and services that are first class. Remember that the combined meaning may be entirely different to the words individual meaning: A solid waste system is not the same as a solid-waste system.
  6. Apostrophes (‘) are used to show that letters or numbers have been left out: It’s important that businesses don’t forget the lessons learned in the recession of ’09. This form is perfectly acceptable in emails but should be avoided in more formal business communications like letters, reports or tender submissions: It is important that businesses do not forget the learned in the recession of 2009.
  7. Another use for Apostrophes (‘) is to show belonging. With a singular noun or most personal nouns, add an apostrophe plus s: FM Guru’s experience is extensive (The experience of FM Guru). With a plural noun that already ends in s, add an apostrophe after the s: We attach three months’ accounts (Accounts for three months).
  8. More Apostrophe (‘) rules apply to possessive pronouns, words like ‘its, hers, yours, and ours’, which are exceptions to the rule about using an apostrophe to show belonging. So, if ‘it’s’ is short for ‘it is’ or ‘it has’: it’s going to be a competitive tender, write it with an apostrophe, but if the meaning is ‘belonging to it’, then there’s no apostrophe: Each tender will be judged on its own merits.
  9. Full Stops (.) are used to mark the end of a sentence. An additional use is to highlight an abbreviation when expressed in lower case: e.g. or i.e. Abbreviations expressed in upper case should not normally use full stops: BIFM or RICS. One area of full stop confusion is when using brackets. A full stop appears inside the brackets, if the bracket contains a complete sentence: FM outsourcing advice is offered. (This includes both strategy and implementation.) The full stop appears outside of the brackets if the brackets don’t contain a complete sentence: Outsourcing advice is offered (including strategy and implementation).
  10. Exclamation and Question marks (! and ?) are special forms of full stop. A question mark is placed at the end of a sentence which is a direct question: How many FM Consultants are truly independent? Exclamation marks are used at the end of a sentence or a short phrase which expresses very strong feeling: The best advice I ever received! This works well in writing that represents normal speech such as a quick email to a friend or when quoting a client endorsement; however it should be avoided in more formal documents as it gives an childish and almost surprised quality to the message: The business has been operating for seven years!

I am not suggesting that every facility manager needs to develop the grammar and punctuation skills of an Oxford scholar. The practical challenge of operating in FM is difficult enough, but we must beware of sending out unprofessional signals or even confusing our readers with the completely wrong meaning.

Some people suggest leaving punctuation out but this can be really confusing. What does this mean?

  • The FM Team will be required to work twenty four hour shifts.

Hyphens can be used to show different meanings:

  • The FM Team will be required to work twenty four-hour shifts.
  • The FM Team will be required to work twenty-four hour shifts.
  • The FM Team will be required to work twenty-four-hour shift