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These are tough times for grammarians who police punctuation. Where they once felt the need to defend the Oxford comma, now they must defend punctuation itself.

Take the period. Please. 

The evolving use of the period (or “full stop,” as it’s called in the U.K.) isn’t just an esoteric debate among academics. For marketers, the choices you make about periods and other punctuation can result in complete miscommunication with different types of audiences.

David Crystal, a former master of original pronunciation at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, recently told the New York Times, “We are at a momentous moment in the history of the (period). In a text message, it is pretty obvious a sentence has come to an end. So why use it?”

Research by Crystal among high school students reveals that a period today can be interpreted as a weapon to show irony, syntactic snark, insincerity and even aggression. To students, text messages with periods were rated as less sincere, whereas periods made no difference in the same notes penned by hand.

Using symbols of punctuation in such ways is a challenge to those of us who straddle the fence of writing as marketers and writing as traditional journalists. While we may use emoticons or emoji when working with clients on projects that involve Twitter and other appropriate channels, we are reluctant to use them with other types of media platforms, even web-based ones.

Bottom line for marketers: Don’t give up on good punctuation when communicating with customers. However, be aware of the ways punctuation evolves with new forms of media.

(Photo: Thinkstock)