Punctuation marks are not tiny emjois. It’s true. And it’s really too bad, some of those faces can get pretty funny! Correct punctuation also has some pretty good aspects though too. Capable of not only helping your sentences flow the way you intended, correct punctuation insures the intent of your sentence itself comes across properly. A mystery shopping report is no different. Without proper punctuation, your message could truly be lost in translation.

Next to grammar errors, incorrect punctuation is the most common mistake in a mystery shop report. If you’re missing points on reports for punctuation, here’s a speedy overview on how to accurately punctuate your writing.

Quotation Marks

A mystery shopping report is used by clients to gain a close perspective into customer interactions at the store level. Because of this, it is important to provide as much specificity and detail as possible. Often, shoppers forget to use quotation marks when providing a recount of an interaction with an employee. As a result, a mystery shopping report loses a fair degree of accuracy and legitimacy. Here are some rules to keep in mind when using quotations.

  • Rule 1: Use double quotation marks to set off a direct quotation.
    • Correct: “Will you be having dinner?” the server asked.
    • Incorrect: The server asked “would I be having dinner.”
  • Rule 2. Periods, question marks, exclamation points and commas always go inside quotation marks.
    • Examples:
      • The hostess asked, “Two for lunch?” Then she said, “Please follow me.” I said, “Could we please sit on the patio?” “Sure!” she said as we followed her across the dining room.

Keep It Consistent

When you use a dash or a comma in a sentence, rules require using the same punctuation at the beginning and end of the clause. Keep this in mind when writing a mystery shopping report.

  • Correct: The mechanics, who came from all areas of the shop, told me what repairs my car needed. OR The mechanics – who came from all areas of the shop – told me what repairs my car needed.
  • Incorrect: The mechanics, who came from all areas of the shop – told me what repairs my car needed.

Also remember that a dash is stronger than a comma. It should only be used to add emphasis to a statement or to set off a modifying statement that begins with the word “these.”

  • Examples:
    • I was pleased my burrito was served with all the toppings I ordered – and an extra side of freshly made guacamole!
    • Service, food, and atmosphere – these are the reasons I would return.

Proper Colon Usage

A colon (:) is used at the end of a complete sentence to add a list, elaborate on a point, or restate a point.

  • Examples:
    • List: Three associates approached me as I entered the furniture store: Douglas, Tricia, and Evan.
    • Elaboration: I decided not to order dessert: My sister was serving cake at her home after dinner.
    • Restatement: Taylor couldn’t decide which shoes to wear: Both pairs were stylish and comfortable.  

Use a Semicolon for Equal Emphasis

A semicolon typically joins related independent clauses that are of equal importance.

  • Example:
    • Tony told me the specials in a monotone voice; his tone lacked enthusiasm.

A semicolon can also be used before a conjunctive adverb used to join the two parts of a compound sentence.

  • Example:
    • The line for to-go orders was very long; however, my order was taken within 90 seconds.

Apostrophes – Most Misused in a Mystery Shopping Report

The poor apostrophe – which resembles an upside down comma – is by far the most misused punctuation mark. It only has two uses but gets thrown into plural forms of nouns all the time, reason unknown.

An apostrophe is used to indicate possession or ownership. For singular possessive nouns, an apostrophe and an -s is added. Plural possessive nouns that do not end in -s also require an apostrophe and an added -s. Only an apostrophe is added (no -s) when showing possession or ownership for a plural possessive noun that ends in -s.

  • Examples:
    • Singular possessive noun: Charlie’s receipt
    • Singular possessive noun ending in -s: Gus’s jacket
    • Plural possessive nouns: the people’s rights
    • Plural possessive noun that ends in -s: the guests’ luggage

Contractions also require apostrophes to indicate omitted letters in a word.

  • Examples:
    • “It’s” is a contraction for it is.
    • “That’s” is a contraction for that is.
    • “Aren’t” is a contraction for are not.
    • And remember: “Its” is a possessive pronoun (no apostrophe).

Parentheses versus Commas

Parentheses are used to show information in a sentence that is related, but not necessary to understand the sentence’s meaning. Commas can usually be used in place of parentheses, although parentheses typically place less emphasis on the additional information.

  • Examples:
    • I shopped a variety of departments (housewares, linens, home décor) during my visit.
    • If the information inside the parentheses is a complete sentence within the larger sentence, no punctuation is required.
      • The landscaping (I saw it when I looked outside while waiting for my food) was impeccably manicured.

The more you practice proper punctuation, the easier it becomes. It won’t be long until you are consistently receiving perfect scores on your mystery shopping report.

Keep the above guidelines in mind and remember you can always use the web to search for your specific punctuation question. You’re likely to find that someone else has asked a similar question before. And if the answer is becoming too time-consuming, keep it simple and write what you know is correct. Emojis might feel more expressive but proper punctuation is still a classic.

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