How do you use a colon? What does it do? Can we just leave it out altogether?

Here is a list of reasons that you need to use a colon in your copywriting:

  1. It adds meaning to your writing
  2. It allows you to introduce something new, especially a list
  3. It enables you to integrate questions without tripping over speech marks and commas
  4. It enables you to complete thoughts

Note the colon before the list.

Like all punctuation marks, the colon is corruptible. You will find it sitting in places you least expect it and you will find it missing from the places it is needed most. The colon is hard to misuse really, but amazingly, people manage.

I have already shown you how to use it to introduce a list above. Be careful not to place a colon between a preposition and its consequent objects and do not use one to separate a verb and its complements. This is akin to just placing one randomly anywhere in a given sentence, although it can feel natural at the time you write it.

Remember, you do not have to use a colon just because you have a list. If the list forms part of a complex sentence, then in most cases you need to ditch the colon. Lists with no sentence prequel, like my example above, need a colon to introduce them or they just seem to dangle, completely unconnected to anything.

Use a colon to concrete a thought

I was thinking about the weeds in the garden earlier: we really need to get to grips with them.

You can use a colon to complete, or solidify a thought or question. Expressing thoughts, especially in copywriting, can be tricky without the right grammatical tools. The colon really comes into its own here and this is why it is important to distinguish it at this point from a semi-colon.

The semi-colon acts as a bridge between two independent, but much related clauses. That is two complete sentences bound together with connecting, rather than terminating, punctuation. The colon is a little different. A colon must have a complete clause before it, but does not have to have one after it. That is why it is perfect for lists, and two-part thoughts, where the latter part is a supporting comment, a ‘concretion’ of the former.

Clear as mud?

The colon in copywriting

There are many different types of content and many will not have any need for a colon. But you must remember that while good copy has sales and conversion as its core function, it also has to be interesting. And for that, it needs to flow. If a reader can read your copy the way they would say it aloud or think it, then you have a winning formula. The colon can help ease those tricky clauses that do not read naturally, making your content more user friendly and ultimately, successful.