Ampersands: sloppy & lazy

Although the ampersand (that little “&” mark) can be handy now and then, it’s one of the most-misused tools in the punctuation toolbox.

The ampersand serves as a graphic replacement for the word “and.” When used in graphic design, it can even be a thing of beauty — much prettier than those three letters it replaces. Designers twist and turn ampersands, run words around them, and present them in different colors and typefaces.

But those lovely ampersands do not belong in body text. Whether you’re writing a brochure, an article, a letter, or a blog post, replacing the word “and” with an ampersand makes your hard work look sloppy and amateurish. If you’re writing in full sentences — or even in fragments — please stick to “and” instead of ampersands.

There is one exception, and that’s when you’re including a title or name that normally incorporates an ampersand. For example, if you’re writing about that well-known Boston law firm … Dewey, Cheatem & Howe … the ampersand is perfectly acceptable. Otherwise, please leave it in your toolbox.