Business Writing Essentials


The colon points to things such as an example, an explanation, or a list.

Point to an example

When a clause is followed by an example, or examples, of what is being talked about in the clause, a colon can be used to point to them:

Our service failures had three reasons: too slow, too complicated, and too expensive.

Point to an explanation

If a second sentence explains or illustrates a first sentence, you can point to them with a colon:

Orientation leaders need to read the report: it gives details about employee benefits.

Point to a list

To attach a list of things to a thought that contains (or implies) an anticipating expression, such as these, thus, or the following, that directs attention to the list, use a colon:

These are some of the topics in the report: insurance, training, and pensions.

The report discusses job-related topics: insurance, training, and pensions.

Point to a list with an introduction

To attach a list of things to a thought that anticipates that list, you can join them with an introductory phrase such as for example, namely, and that is, if you surround that word with a colon and a comma:

The report is used to educate new hires about a variety of topics: for example, insurance, training, and pensions.

Note: The semicolon joins things. For example, to show a close relationship between two sentences, you can join them with a semicolon:

Our manager approved the report; the finance department disapproved.

To learn all the complicated ways to use the semicolon, have fun reading The Gregg Reference Manual. Keep in mind, though, that the semicolon is almost always glue. Its purpose is to attach ideas together.

Lesson: Colon
Module: Punctuation
Course: Business Writing Essentials