No, I’m not advocating violence against punctuation. And I’ll admit that the ampersand (that little “&” mark) can be handy now and then. But 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 will twist and turn ampersands, run words through and around them, or present them in different colors and typefaces.

But there is one place that ampersands simply do not belong, and that’s 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.  Contrary to what some people seem to think, it isn’t cool. If you’re writing in full sentences — or even in fragments — please stick to “and” instead of ampersands.

There is one clear exception, and that’s when you’re including a title or name that normally incorporates an ampersand. For example, if you were writing about that famous Boston legal practice … Dewey, Cheatem & Howe … the ampersand would be perfectly acceptable. Otherwise, please leave it in your toolbox.