Punctuation is important. It affects the pace of our writing and gives the reader direction. It helps them know when to pause and take a breath. Without punctuation your piece of writing looses its sense of flow and rhythm. The reader soon begins to feel they are being pushed and pulled. No matter how clever your words are things just do not make sense.
Here I list the most common punctuation marks used by writers today. Some will be familiar, others not so familiar but they are all as important as each other.
Ampersand ( & )
Used instead of and. The ampersand should never be used in general test. This is considered incorrect practice by editors worldwide.
Ampersands should be restricted to names of objects, titles, companies etc. where that organisation has chosen to include it. It is completely incorrect to substitute the & with and when it is how a company has designed its name.
Ampersands are also used when referring to the names of joint authors, for example, when using author’s names in referencing and bibliographies.
Nouns use apostrophes to mark possession. With singular and collective nouns, they are placed before the ‘s. With plural nouns, they are placed after the s’.
Apostrophes are also used to replace a missing letter in a colloquial word or phrase. For example Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Colons are used to introduce information, a series of statements or a range of items ( such as bullet point lists ).
Colons are also used to create links between two statements, where the new information reinforces, summarises or contrasts the previous statement.
Colons are used to announce dialogue, especially in plays and in newspaper and magazine articles. A comma is most frequently used when announcing dialogue in book publishing.
Colons can be followed by lower-case letters. However when followed by a question or a statement, they can take a capital.
Commas provide short pauses in sentences. The skill is to place them in the right place, not more than is necessary.
Commas separate a string of words grouped together.
Commas are used at each end of clauses, words and phrases that supply extra information to the main clause. These words supply information that is not essential to the meaning of the sentence.
Commas provide pauses between long clauses and prevent ambiguity in sentences.
Dashes are used to separate an extraneous word or set of words within a sentence. Dashes are different from hyphens, which hyphenate words ( as in day-to-day event ). When using dashes, the main sentence should be stronger than the extraneous material. Dashes are also used to add additional information to a sentence.
An ellipsis is a device that indicates words are missing from a sentence. It is often used in interviews to indicate that an irrelevant word or phrase has been omitted to save space. An ellipses is frequently used by creative writers to indicate a natural hesitation in dialogue, and sometimes in indirect speech to slow down the pace.
Exclamation Mark !
Exclamation marks should be used in moderation to indicate commands, interjections, exclamations and emphasis.
Full Stop .
Full stops indicate the end of sentences. They set the pace of a story. They determine how much information the reader takes in at one time.
Question Mark ?
Questions marks should be used whenever a question is asked. Do not use a question mark when writing statements or past tense.
Semicolons are used in sentences to separate lists where commas have been used within the list.
Commas can often replace semicolons. You can avoid using unnecessary semicolons by breaking a sentence in two.