Are you someone who hates having to decide what to wear in the morning, where to go out for dinner, or what to do on a Saturday night? If so, you may be a big fan of the slash – the long-time friend of indecisiveness. Today we’re going to tell you why your love affair with the slash is costing you clarity in your blog posts, web copy, and reports. We’ll also show you how to use slashes properly. Let the break up begin!
Don’t use slashes to be indecisive
If you’re scared of commitment, you may have a habit of writing sentences like these:
- “Please email and/or call us if you have any questions.”
- “Write an ebook/blog post to get more traffic on your site.”
As punctuation guru Grammar Girl notes, it’s hard to find a style guide (including the Chicago Manual of Style and the APA Manual) that doesn’t shake its figurative head at these. Why? Because there’s usually an easier and clearer way to convey the same information.
When you use “and/or,” for example, you can usually go with either “and” or “or.” After all, do you really want people to email AND call you if they have questions? Probably not. You probably want them to do one or the other, so say that:
- “Please email or call us if you have any questions.”
Similarly, when you place a slash between two terms, you can usually replace the slash with “and” or “or.” To someone who isn’t familiar with content marketing, the sentence “write an ebook/blog post” may be confusing: is “blog post” another term for “ebook” or are they two different things? It may seem like a silly question. But remember that not everyone knows the difference and a slash will only perpetuate their confusion. That’s why you’re better off keeping the slash out:
- “Write an ebook or blog post to get more traffic on your site.”
Use slashes in these cases
Although we’ve been hating on the slash so far in this post, there are some times when using a slash feels just right:
As shorthand for “per”
You can use slashes in place of “per”:
- “They were driving at 20 km/hour the whole way.” (That sounds painful.)
As shorthand for “and”
In some cases, you can use slashes in place of “and”:
- “He just completed the MD/PhD program at Johns Hopkins.”
As shorthand for “or”
In some cases, you can use slashes in place of “or”:
- “Each attendee must have his/her badge scanned on entry.”
To refer to combined objects
You can use slashes to describe objects that serve more than one purpose. For example, if one room in a house was both the den and the guest, we would describe it like this:
- “They moved the bed into the den/guest room.”
To write fractions
You can use slashes to express fractions:
- “She ate 2/3 of the pie all by herself.”
To describe academic or fiscal years
You can use slashes when referring to academic school years or fiscal years that span more than one calendar year:
- “They looked at the 2017/2018 course catalogue.”
- “The brand plans to launch two new products in the 2018/2019 fiscal year.”
To show line breaks in poems and songs
You can use slashes to show where the line breaks are in a poem or song:
- “Hello, it’s me/I was wondering if after all these years you’d like to meet/To go over everything/They say that time’s supposed to heal ya/But I ain’t done much healing.”
Gotta love Adele.
Slashes aren’t always bad, but you want to make sure that you’re using them correctly. The key is to avoid using slashes as a crutch for being indecisive about what you want to say. Figure out exactly what you want to say, and if a slash helps you get there, great. But if it muddles your message, steer clear of it.
Want to know the real deal about another punctuation mark you thought you were using correctly. Read our blog post on why you can’t use colons like this: “The salad included: arugula, fennel, and cranberries.”
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