Marketing Copywriting: Does ‘Anal Retentive’ Have a Hyphen?

There wouldn’t even be a brouhaha over one space or two if even having a marketing copywriting style guide as a reference didn’t seem so out of style.

Marketing copywriting

There are many stellar copywriters out there. And there are equally great editors. But can we please have a marketing copywriting style guide?

You see, there appear to be (too) many discussions around the all-important matter of how many spaces a writer should place after an end punctuation. Two spaces later, and now I’ve added another one.

There’s the one-space marketing copywriting camp: the digerati, journalism (both digital and print), chronic text users, rule haters, possibly job-screeners looking to weed out (illegally, even in fun) anyone over 40 by examining their written work. Journalism? I received an “F” once in a J-school assignment, because my professor called me out for using two spaces after at full stop. Paper costs money, even if a Twitter character doesn’t.

And there’s the two-space marketing copywriting camp: Book publishing, science, aesthetics, rule respecters from days-long-past childhood education, and perhaps anyone anally retentive. Oh, did I say science? Yes, even researchers have weighed in on this weighty matter. And you knew it was coming … the digerati quickly responded: Mental Floss, and I really appreciate LifeHacker’s investigative response.

Punctuation in Marketing Copywriting: One or Two, Oh My! Whatever Are We to Do?!

I have to say, I’m flabbergasted by all this concern (or lack thereof) over marketing copywriting punctuation.

First, I demand that any HR professional who screens job applicants based on one-space use or two — as a tacit means for age discrimination — ought to be fired, and the company he or she works for sued to high heaven. (Good luck proving it.)

Second, I thank the researchers who have “proven” that all our eyes need a break — even if it’s only a couple of pixels. Dear reader, I know I’m prone to write long, drawn-out sentences, and I apologize. I’ve always suspected you needed a break — and, as a default, I’ve always sought to give you one. No matter what font is used.

Third, perhaps all we really need is a marketing copywriting style guide — and adhere to it. When I get a freelance assignment, one question I often ask, “Is there a style guide for your company or publication? If not, do you default to Associated Press, Wired or Chicago Manual of Style?“ Even studying a client’s website, direct mail, official filings or other communications simply to discern if a preference even exists (or not) is helpful. Observe, and do what the client does with marketing copywriting.

Anal-Retentive Marketing Copywriting: Why Bother? Bother

Logically, there wouldn’t even be a brouhaha over one space or two if even having a marketing copywriting style guide as a reference didn’t seem so out of style.

Perhaps “anything goes” and “break all rules” is the new style — and thus, I’ve wasted your time reading this column, as I get nostalgic for consistency, order, attention to detail, and a layer of copy editors and proofreaders who no longer exist in the world of on-demand communication. But as we throw away the style guides, do we have to throw away the fact-checkers, too?

I guess, these days, that’s also a matter of style. At least there will be no eye strain here, today.

[Editor’s Note: The editors of Target Marketing have removed one space after each of Chet’s sentences. He is now informed: It’s our style!]

Author: Chet Dalzell

Marketing Sustainably: A blog posting questions, opportunities, concerns and observations on sustainability in marketing. Chet Dalzell has 25 years of public relations management and expertise in service to leading brands in consumer, donor, patient and business-to-business markets, and in the field of integrated marketing. He serves on the ANA International ECHO Awards Board of Governors, as an adviser to the Direct Marketing Club of New York, and is senior director, communications and industry relations, with the Digital Advertising Alliance. Chet loves UConn Basketball (men's and women's) and Nebraska Football (that's just men, at this point), too! 

14 thoughts on “Marketing Copywriting: Does ‘Anal Retentive’ Have a Hyphen?”

  1. Fun way to start a week! If you test an offer and it wins against the control, then that’s all I need to know. I was once asked to say something nice about HR. Still haven’t come with anything…

        1. Ah, now I know. And I’ll say something nice.

          The HR department is usually populated by the kind of mediocre bureaucrats who will do anything in their power to fondle the status quo and prevent the likes of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, John Lennon, Gloria Steinhem, probably you and certainly me from getting a job because we just won’t ‘fit in’ and we are likely to be ‘disruptive’.

          1. You nailed it, bud! That’s why their trade org is called SHRM? Sounds evil!

  2. It does only when used as a modifier. Therefore we write “He is an anal retentive” with no hyphen; we write “He is an anal-retentive asshole” with the hyphen.

    1. You beat me to it.
      I was going to suggest we research the White House style book where we are governed by an anal-retentive asshole (should there be a hyphen after retentive?); described by his Chief of Staff as a ‘f…ing idiot (or is it f…ing-idiot) and more generally as a ‘Twitter shitter’ (or is it ‘Twitter-shitter’)?
      In today’s expletive driven (should that be hyphenated) world wouldn’t we gain style points by eliminating the pejoratives altogether? As my Headmaster used to say: there are no synonyms in the English language and expletives simply display a lack of vocabulary.
      Now that’s one damned good (hyphen?) thought.

    2. On the other hand, five fingers. (Sorry, old joke). Seriously, I have written subject lines for emails with added hyphens, astericks, bullet points, any kind of junk I could think of just to get the stupid thing to stand out amongst the clutter. So I’ve got that going for me…

  3. When we no longer know the reason why, i.e., when we know longer have either a written rule book or physical knowledge managers, people use two spaces after a period. FYI, we used them back before Steve Jobs, who with the invention of his MAC, brought variable letterspacing back to life. Once letters were tucked neatly together, there was no longer the need for that big white space between sentences. Of course, it took longer for all the PC Word users to adapt, as usual.

  4. Not even a matter of right or wrong here. Two spaces is inherently inaccurate and publishers have taken them out for time immemorial. While I appreciate the idea it may be an age-related habit, as a 50 year-old advertising creative I will toss out any resume that utilizes it and correct a client without hesitation. Once they understand the history (technology not style), they’re more than happy to adjust. Let’s focus on hyphens and not add this non-debate to the mix 🙂

  5. Chet,
    spell check did not find your extra “t” here.
    …spaces after at full stop.

    ksutter…
    ditto here.
    i.e., when we know longer…

    faithfully bustin’ chops 😉

  6. Kudos to Target Marketing for having the gumption to (1) correct my spacing to conform to its style requirements and (2) running “anal” in a subject line for today’s email newsletter! I hope that didn’t trigger too many corporate filters! Love the comments here, arbiters of style all.

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