Saturday, March 28, 2015

Varying Your Use of Punctuation

By: Joellyn Powers

It might not seem like it, but learning how to utilize different types of punctuation in your writing  can lead to more sophisticated syntax, more complex ideas, and a piece of writing that is more enjoyable for your audience to read. Below are several commonly misused forms of punctuation that you should learn how to successfully integrate into your own writing:

The Comma

While a common form of punctuation, the comma is often misused or overused. Many students throw commas into sentences without really thinking about why the comma is going there in the first place, or if it is even necessary to the sentences structure. In general, you want to use a comma when: joining two independent clauses, after using an introductory phrase, to separate elements in a series, and to separate nonessential elements from a sentence. For example:

John and Tim went to the store, but it was closed. (joining two independent clauses)

After the movie, Lucys family went out for dinner. (after an introductory phrase)

While studying abroad, the students traveled to Ireland, Portugal, Spain, and France. (separating elements in a series)

Mikes dog, an Irish setter, was adopted from the humane society. (separating nonessential elements from a sentence)

The Semicolon

Semicolons are often mistakenly used as commas, or mistakenly used to join an independent clause and a dependent clause. Mastering the semicolon can help take your writing to another level of professionalism. Use a semicolon to join two independent clauses when the two clauses are of equal emphasis, when a second independent clause follows the first with a conjunctive adverb, or when you are joining elements in a series that already include commas:

Studies have found that reading from a physical book is better than reading from a screen; the brain can retain information from the page more easily than it can from a computer screen. (joining two independent clauses of equal emphasis)

Heathers normal route to work was under construction; however, a detour was set up through town. (a second independent clause beginning with a conjunctive adverb)

Jims list of places he wants to travel include Paris, France; Lisbon, Portugal; Sydney, Australia; and Ankara, Turkey.

The Colon

Colons are not interchangeable with semicolons, which seems to be a common problem in student writing. Colons are used to join two independent clauses when you wish to emphasize the second independent clause, and after an independent clause when it is followed by a list, or the like:

Due to weather conditions, all flights at the airport are canceled: travelers are asked to wait patiently for more information. (emphasizing a second independent clause)

Amys mom gave her a list of errands to run: the pharmacy, the grocery store, the post office, and the bank.

The Dash

The dash is one of those punctuation marks that is not used enough, and it should be used more! It can add a different sort of emphasis to your writing than a semicolon or colon can. Dashes are used to set off or emphasize the content enclosed within them, or to emphasize the content that follows them:

It was possible that one reason the discussion became so heated and that so many students felt personally attacked in the process was because the professor had not established any sort of rules for the conversation. (setting off and emphasizing content within the sentence)

Julie found that it was easier to write a cover letter when she made an outline of the points she wanted to cover first and she received more responses from potential employers after doing so. (emphasizing content that follows a sentence)

(All examples have been adapted from the Purdue OWL site, and even more information about punctuation and grammar is available there.)

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