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Keep Your Punctuation Simple

The subject of punctuation can be somewhat intimidating. However, remember that you use punctuation only to make your writing easier for your reader to understand. You don't punctuate your work in order to satisfy some arcane or intricate writing requirement. If you approach punctuation with this in mind, it will become a little simpler.

Here are some helpful hints for the use of the most frequently used punctuation marks.

  • End each complete thought with a period, question mark, or exclamation mark. Be sparing in your use of exclamation marks. The question mark is equivalent to a shout. Don't use many of these or you may alienate your readers.

  • Use colons (:) only to precede a list of points, as in the following example:
    Try to adhere to the following:
    A. The corporation's dress code
    B. The corporation's client-supplier protocol
    C. The corporation's required reporting format

  • Avoid the use of semi-colons, if at all possible. They help writers to create sentences that are much longer than you should normally use. Use semi-colons only as commons to separate phrases or clauses, which already contain commas. For example, The trio consisted of a man, who had taught high school ten years previously; his daughter, who was in her final year at a Midwestern University; and a young man, who had attended an eastern prep school.

  • Use commas to separate clauses, items in a series (e.g., Jane, John, Mary and Bill ), quotations, a parenthetical or interrupting element from the sentence (e.g., Mary, an elderly spinster, ) and adjectives. Remember that you should use commas to aid your readers, not to complicate your writing.

  • Keep your use of quotations and quotation marks in non-fiction writing to a minimum. Although quotations and quotation marks are accepted in academic writing, their use suggests that you have no original thoughts of your own.

If you follow these simple hints, punctuation should become a little easier. Remember that punctuation should help the reader. Therefore, keep it simple.

For more extensive online information about the rules of punctuation marks and examples, visit

About The Author

George Robinson is the chief editor of , a North American editing service that helps you to improve your scientific paper, technical article, thesis, dissertation, or other technical writing or business document.

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