Brief Overview of Punctuation
When speaking, we can pause or change the tone of our voices to indicate emphasis. When writing, we must use punctuation to indicate these places of emphasis. This resource should help to clarify when and how to use various marks of punctuation.
Contributors:Morgan Sousa, Dana Lynn Driscoll
Last Edited: 2018-03-07 01:34:20
When speaking, we can pause or change the tone of our voices to indicate emphasis. When writing, we use punctuation to indicate these places of emphases. This handout should help to clarify when and how to use various marks of punctuation.
Independent clause: a clause that has a subject and a verb and can stand alone; a complete sentence
Dependent clause: a clause that has a subject and a verb but cannot stand alone; an incomplete sentence
Use a comma to join two independent clauses and a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, for, nor, so).
Road construction can be inconvenient, but it is necessary.
The new house has a large fenced backyard, so I am sure our dog will enjoy it.
Use a comma after an introductory phrase, prepositional phrase, or dependent clause.
To get a good grade, you must complete all your assignments.
Because Dad caught the chicken pox, we canceled our vacation.
After the wedding, the guests attended the reception.
Use a comma to separate elements in a series. Although there is no set rule that requires a comma before the last item in a series, it seems to be a general academic convention to include it. The examples below demonstrate this trend.
On her vacation, Lisa visited Greece, Spain, and Italy.
In their speeches, many of the candidates promised to help protect the environment, bring about world peace, and end world hunger.
Use a comma to separate nonessential elements from a sentence. More specifically, when a sentence includes information that is not crucial to the message or intent of the sentence, enclose it in or separate it by commas.
John's truck, a red Chevrolet, needs new tires.
When he realized he had overslept, Matt rushed to his car and hurried to work.
Use a comma between coordinate adjectives (adjectives that are equal and reversible).
The irritable, fidgety crowd waited impatiently for the rally speeches to begin.
The sturdy, compact suitcase made a perfect gift.
Use a comma after a transitional element (however, therefore, nonetheless, also, otherwise, finally, instead, thus, of course, above all, for example, in other words, as a result, on the other hand, in conclusion, in addition)
For example, the Red Sox, Yankees, and Indians are popular baseball teams.
If you really want to get a good grade this semester, however, you must complete all assignments, attend class, and study your notes.
Use a comma with quoted words.
"Yes," she promised. Todd replied, saying, "I will be back this afternoon."
Use a comma in a date.
October 25, 1999
Monday, October 25, 1999
25 October 1999
Use a comma in a number.
1614 High Street
Use a comma in a personal title.
Pam Smith, MD
Mike Rose, Chief Financial Officer for Operations, reported the quarter's earnings.
Use a comma to separate a city name from the state.
West Lafayette, Indiana
Avoid comma splices (two independent clauses joined only by a comma). Instead, separate the clauses with a period, with a comma followed by a coordinating conjunction, or with a semicolon.
Use a semicolon to join two independent clauses when the second clause restates the first or when the two clauses are of equal emphasis.
Road construction in Dallas has hindered travel around town; streets have become covered with bulldozers, trucks, and cones.
Use a semicolon to join two independent clauses when the second clause begins with a conjunctive adverb (however, therefore, moreover, furthermore, thus, meanwhile, nonetheless, otherwise) or a transition (in fact, for example, that is, for instance, in addition, in other words, on the other hand, even so).
Terrorism in the United States has become a recent concern; in fact, the concern for America's safety has led to an awareness of global terrorism.
Use a semicolon to join elements of a series when individual items of the series already include commas.
Recent sites of the Olympic Games include Athens, Greece; Salt Lake City, Utah; Sydney, Australia; Nagano, Japan.
For more information on semicolons, please see the "90-Second Semicolon" vidcast series on the Purdue OWL YouTube Channel.
Use a colon to join two independent clauses when you wish to emphasize the second clause.
Road construction in Dallas has hindered travel around town: parts of Main, Fifth, and West Street are closed during the construction.
Use a colon after an independent clause when it is followed by a list, a quotation, an appositive, or other ideas directly related to the independent clause.
Julie went to the store for some groceries: milk, bread, coffee, and cheese.
In his Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln urges Americans to rededicate themselves to the unfinished work of the deceased soldiers: "It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."
I know the perfect job for her: a politician.
Use a colon at the end of a business letter greeting.
To Whom It May Concern:
Use a colon to separate the hour and minute(s) in a time notation.
Use a colon to separate the chapter and verse in a Biblical reference.
Parentheses are used to emphasize content. They place more emphasis on the enclosed content than commas. Use parentheses to set off nonessential material, such as dates, clarifying information, or sources, from a sentence.
Muhammed Ali (1942-2016), arguably the greatest athlete of all time, claimed he would "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee."
Dashes are used to set off or emphasize the content enclosed within dashes or the content that follows a dash. Dashes place more emphasis on this content than parentheses.
Perhaps one reason why the term has been so problematic—so resistant to definition, and yet so transitory in those definitions—is because of its multitude of applications.
In terms of public legitimacy—that is, in terms of garnering support from state legislators, parents, donors, and university administrators—English departments are primarily places where advanced literacy is taught.
The U.S.S. Constitution became known as "Old Ironsides" during the War of 1812—during which the cannonballs fired from the British H.M.S. Guerriere merely bounced off the sides of the Constitution.
To some of you, my proposals may seem radical—even revolutionary.
Use a dash to set off an appositive phrase that already includes commas. An appositive is a word that adds explanatory or clarifying information to the noun that precedes it.
The cousins—Tina, Todd, and Sam—arrived at the party together.
Use quotation marks to enclose direct quotations. Note that commas and periods are placed inside the closing quotation mark, and colons and semicolons are placed outside. The placement of question and exclamation marks depends on the situation.
He asked, "When will you be arriving?" I answered, "Sometime after 6:30."
Use quotation marks to indicate the novel, ironic, or reserved use of a word.
History is stained with blood spilled in the name of "justice."
Use quotation marks around the titles of short poems, song titles, short stories, magazine or newspaper articles, essays, speeches, chapter titles, short films, and episodes of television or radio shows.
"Self-Reliance," by Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Just Like a Woman," by Bob Dylan
"The Smelly Car," an episode of Seinfeld
Do not use quotation marks in indirect or block quotations.
Underlining and italics are often used interchangeably. Before word-processing programs were widely available, writers would underline certain words to indicate to publishers to italicize whatever was underlined. Although the general trend has been moving toward italicizing instead of underlining, you should remain consistent with your choice throughout your paper. To be safe, you could check with your teacher to find out which he/she prefers. Italicize the titles of magazines, books, newspapers, academic journals, films, television shows, long poems, plays of three or more acts, operas, musical albums, works of art, websites, and individual trains, planes, or ships.
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
The Metamorphosis of Narcissus by Salvador Dali
Italicize foreign words.
Semper fi, the motto of the U.S. Marine Corps, means "always faithful."
Italicize a word or phrase to add emphasis.
The truth is of utmost concern!
Italicize a word when referring to that word.
The word justice is often misunderstood and therefore misused.
As the government begins its crackdown on essay mill websites, it’s easy to see just how much pressure students are under to get top grades for their coursework these days. But writing a high-scoring paper doesn’t need to be complicated. We spoke to experts to get some simple techniques that will raise your writing game.
Tim Squirrell is a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, and is teaching for the first time this year. When he was asked to deliver sessions on the art of essay-writing, he decided to publish a comprehensive (and brilliant) blog on the topic, offering wisdom gleaned from turning out two or three essays a week for his own undergraduate degree.
“There is a knack to it,” he says. “It took me until my second or third year at Cambridge to work it out. No one tells you how to put together an argument and push yourself from a 60 to a 70, but once you to get grips with how you’re meant to construct them, it’s simple.”
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The goal of writing any essay is to show that you can think critically about the material at hand (whatever it may be). This means going beyond regurgitating what you’ve read; if you’re just repeating other people’s arguments, you’re never going to trouble the upper end of the marking scale.
“You need to be using your higher cognitive abilities,” says Bryan Greetham, author of the bestselling How to Write Better Essays. “You’re not just showing understanding and recall, but analysing and synthesising ideas from different sources, then critically evaluating them. That’s where the marks lie.”
But what does critical evaluation actually look like? According to Squirrell, it’s simple: you need to “poke holes” in the texts you’re exploring and work out the ways in which “the authors aren’t perfect”.
“That can be an intimidating idea,” he says. “You’re reading something that someone has probably spent their career studying, so how can you, as an undergraduate, critique it?
“The answer is that you’re not going to discover some gaping flaw in Foucault’s History of Sexuality Volume 3, but you are going to be able to say: ‘There are issues with these certain accounts, here is how you might resolve those’. That’s the difference between a 60-something essay and a 70-something essay.”
Critique your own arguments
Once you’ve cast a critical eye over the texts, you should turn it back on your own arguments. This may feel like going against the grain of what you’ve learned about writing academic essays, but it’s the key to drawing out developed points.
“We’re taught at an early age to present both sides of the argument,” Squirrell continues. “Then you get to university and you’re told to present one side of the argument and sustain it throughout the piece. But that’s not quite it: you need to figure out what the strongest objections to your own argument would be. Write them and try to respond to them, so you become aware of flaws in your reasoning. Every argument has its limits and if you can try and explore those, the markers will often reward that.”
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Fine, use Wikipedia then
The use of Wikipedia for research is a controversial topic among academics, with many advising their students to stay away from the site altogether.
“I genuinely disagree,” says Squirrell. “Those on the other side say that you can’t know who has written it, what they had in mind, what their biases are. But if you’re just trying to get a handle on a subject, or you want to find a scattering of secondary sources, it can be quite useful. I would only recommend it as either a primer or a last resort, but it does have its place.”
Focus your reading
Reading lists can be a hindrance as well as a help. They should be your first port of call for guidance, but they aren’t to-do lists. A book may be listed, but that doesn’t mean you need to absorb the whole thing.
Squirrell advises reading the introduction and conclusion and a relevant chapter but no more. “Otherwise you won’t actually get anything out of it because you’re trying to plough your way through a 300-page monograph,” he says.
You also need to store the information you’re gathering in a helpful, systematic way. Bryan Greetham recommends a digital update of his old-school “project box” approach.
“I have a box to catch all of those small things – a figure, a quotation, something interesting someone says – I’ll write them down and put them in the box so I don’t lose them. Then when I come to write, I have all of my material.”
There are a plenty of online offerings to help with this, such as the project management app Scrivener and referencing tool Zotero, and, for the procrastinators, there are productivity programmes like Self Control, which allow users to block certain websites from their computers for a set period.
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Look beyond the reading list
“This is comparatively easy to do,” says Squirrell. “Look at the citations used in the text, put them in Google Scholar, read the abstracts and decide whether they’re worth reading. Then you can look on Google Scholar at other papers that have cited the work you’re writing about – some of those will be useful. But quality matters more than quantity.”
And finally, the introduction
The old trick of dealing with your introduction last is common knowledge, but it seems few have really mastered the art of writing an effective opener.
“Introductions are the easiest things in the world to get right and nobody does it properly,” Squirrel says. “It should be ‘Here is the argument I am going to make, I am going to substantiate this with three or four strands of argumentation, drawing upon these theorists, who say these things, and I will conclude with some thoughts on this area and how it might clarify our understanding of this phenomenon.’ You should be able to encapsulate it in 100 words or so. That’s literally it.”
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