questionmarkYour words are incredibly powerful business tools that you use each and every day. This is especially true during your job search, what with all the interviews, cover letters, and resumes.

It should come as no surprise that the punctuation surrounding your words in written communication is just as important as the words themselves. Even small things can have a big impact – like using the right number of spaces after a period.

Did you know it’s now unacceptable to include two spaces after a period? The new standard is one space. If you’re like me, your teachers stressed double-spacing as if your entire future depended on it.

To make matters worse, when the standard changed to one space, no memo was sent around. Now, the single-spacers often judge the double-spacers – see, for example, an article I recently read titled “For the Love of God, Stop Putting Two Spaces After a Period.” Now that’s passion. It still surprises me how much these small details can influence a reader’s interpretation of your message – and you yourself.

I learned the single-spacing lesson the hard way, from the kind editors who review my column each week. The editor of my book had also shared this feedback with me, but I was so certain about the double space that I ignored this advice until I simply no longer could.

On top of spaces, there are other punctuation rules to know. One we need to talk about in particular is the exclamation mark (!). If you use exclamation points at all in business emails, keep it to a maximum of 1-2 per email. It’s possible to show excitement through your writing without overusing this mark. Using too many will make you appear overly eager, immature, or as if you’re yelling.

Keep smiley faces and other emojis out of work emails completely. These are best used between friends. Using them at work can make you appear unprofessional at best.

Writing an effective business email is truly an art. It takes time and practice to master, but when you do, you’ll be able to communicate clearly and concisely. Using punctuation to your advantage is the very first step to getting there.

The better your communication is at work, the more likely you are to move your ideas forward. The more you’re able to champion your own ideas, the more career doors will open for you. Punctuation can seem like a silly detail, but it’s relatively easy to improve and will leave a lasting impact.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Memphis Daily News

Angela Copeland is a career coach and CEO at her firm, Copeland Coaching.

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