Not a Vampire Bite: What Those two Dots “:” are and How to Use Them to Bling up Your Writing

 

Some of you smart readers may already know that “:” is a colon. Good job! To others, it’s just a random piece of punctuation that seems almost like a placeholder. They get a lot of use in titles—such as the title of this blog—and if you aren’t using them there, you are missing out.

Let’s talk about how to use a colon to make your blog, email, and social media posts stand out. The colon is supposed to be used between two independent clauses when you want to emphasize the second one. That’s really helpful when you want to use the first words of the heading to cover your keywords topic, then use the second half of your blog to entire your readers to find out more. As I did in this title, the first clause might also be a juicy hook, and the words following the colon can give more solid reasons that your audience should keep reading. (For the grammarians in the house, yes, my example has two dependent clauses, which is the fun we get to have when we know the rules well enough to break them). Back to business.

Notice the difference between these two titles:

Document, Don't Create: Creating Content That Build Your Personal Brand

-Or-

Create Content That Builds Your Personal Brand by not Overthinking It

While the second title might be a little clearer, the first one is the one Gary Vaynerckuk wrote, and obviously he is amazing and probably right. But why? The colon allows him to do something cool with language that he can’t do in any other way in English. The first clause attracts attention and makes us say “What?” Then, the second clause tells us what Gary wants us to know, but without a complete sentence. Want to try it out? Here’s your formula:

Short phrase to grab attention + colon + Phrase explaining why to read more

Did you notice the two colons that I used above before the examples? I introduced both the examples and the formula with a colon. In both cases, the colon indicates the continuation between the phrase and the example, so the examples don't look like Scotty beamed them down from Star Trek. That's what my professors used to say, but the point is to weave the examples and images into a seamless, continuous thought.

The first colon also doubly operates to introduce quoted text.  If I use a colon to introduce a quotation within the body of the paragraph, it look like the next sentence. As Vaynerchuck says: “If you want people to start listening to you, you have to show up….(T)here are a lot of you out there who aren’t producing enough articles or videos or pieces of content that you should be producing to build your influence.” That colon usage comes in handy when you need to make a direct quotation, but without spending all afternoon working it into a complex sentence. 

You can also use a colon to introduce a list, within the body of a paragraph. For instance, here is a list of times to use colons: create better hooks, introduce a quotation, and indicate items in a list. 

However, you would not use a colon to introduce the list--if the introduction is the title of the list, such as the example below. I would not put a colon after “Colons” because it would be redundant:

Three Reasons to Use More Colons

1. Write better content hooks

2. Indicate a quotation

3. Indicate items in a list

Got more questions about colons or other punctuation? I love examples of people breaking the rules and making it work, so what are your favorite titles that use a colon? Let me know what your thoughts are. Create a killer title with your new colon power, and share a link below!