- On October 3, 2018
“Why do you want to quit smoking?” the interviewer asked two groups of people.
“I want to breathe more easily in the morning …”
“I don’t want other people knowing I smoke…”
These two answers appeared in a research report I recently edited, but I wasn’t sure why the author had ended each group’s response with an ellipsis—the dot, dot, dot punctuation mark that crops up in a lot of writing, usually producing an ambiguous effect.
Ellipses (that’s the plural form of the word) have two uses, and the first is the main one:
- To indicate you’ve omitted words someone said. In the case of the first answer, the full response could have been, I want to breathe more easily in the morning so I can go running when I get out of bed, and the second could have been, I don’t want other people knowing I smoke because it could be a turn-off.
- To convey a trailing off or stuttering effect. If that had been the reason for these ellipses, it would have been to show that the respondents had failed to complete their thoughts.
The author hadn’t chosen them for either reason. Instead she was using them to show that other people had separate, yet similar, responses. To rectify the situation, I suggested punctuating the answers with periods and including a note saying that each response was a representative sample for that particular group.
In business you want to be careful not to cherry-pick from what people say, lest you change the meaning of their actual words—and you certainly don’t want to appear as if you’re nodding off.