Business Writing Skills

To Ampersand or not to Ampersand, That Is the Question

Use of the ampersand, the symbol at the top of your 7 key that looks like & (yes, that’s called an ampersand), has long been a pet peeve of mine. In my opinion, it should only be used when you’re typing *&^% instead of an actual swear word, or in a name like the Harry & David logo.

It should most definitely not be used in place of “and” in your business writing…as in never.

Ampersand as speed bump
In business writing, our goal is to communicate clearly and quickly so we can be more productive, and help our readers to be more productive too. Using the ampersand puts up a little speed bump that can slow a reader down, as in this paragraph I stumbled across while pondering the ampersand question:

Today’s overly complex automation flows could be laid out by AI without the agency or brand having to consider possible overlap. It can all be handled in the background without the need for marketer intervention. We will see many more email & marketing automation companies adding AI to their platforms in 2017.

The ampersand is out of place, and so it catches the attention of the reader’s eye and becomes the focus, taking it away from the message the writer is trying to convey. If the writer had used the word “and” instead, the reader would have smoothly made their way to the end of the paragraph without losing focus.

Ampersand as bad for brand
In addition to stalling the reader’s progress, this ampersand gives the appearance of lazy writing, which reflects poorly on the writer—something else we want to avoid. This writer is obviously talking about a topic they know well. They have established credibility with me as the reader by showing their grasp of the subject. And then that credibility gets just a little bit shaken in that last sentence by the use of that symbol where I should see a word.

How long does it take to type out “and”? It takes me longer to hold down the shift key and stretch my finger up to the 7 key to make the ampersand. I’d rather type out the word and keep my credibility intact.

Is an ampersand ever okay?
As I said at the beginning, ampersand use in business writing is a pet peeve of mine. However, my hard-nosed approach was called into question recently when someone sent me a brochure they were working on. They had used ampersands in the headings but the word “and” in the body text, and they asked if using ampersands was okay in this context.

In this case, the answer was yes because they had used the ampersand consistently and only in the headings. They didn’t switch back and forth, sometimes using the symbol while other times writing out the word. Headings had ampersands and body text had “and” written out.

I’d rather not see the ampersands at all, but the usage was consistent throughout and they were only used in headings, so were not causing confusion. In the case of the brochure, the minimal and consistent use of the ampersand didn’t cause any speed bumps.

But not in business writing
In general, however, unless we’re working on a brochure or design, let’s leave the ampersand above the 7 key and out of our documents, especially in emails which is where I see them most often. Whatever we’re writing for work, an email, a memo, a report or a brochure, let’s play it safe and type those three little letters that spell “and.” And leave the ampersand to the logo designers.

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