What is end punctuation?

End punctuation appears at the end of a complete sentence (independent clause) or follows an interjection. The appropriate placement of a period, question mark, or exclamation point separates one statement from another and signals a pause in the word flow. Correct use of end punctuation contributes to the order and readability of the text.

How should commas be used?

  • Use commas to separate a series of three or more items, actions, words, or phrases.

    • I will need my backpack, computer, paper, and textbook for my next class.
    • Sharon walked across campus, entered the building, and went to class.
  • Use a comma between coordinating adjectives(closely placed adjectives that are of equal importance and describe the same thing).
    • thorough, accurate research
    • The talented musician performed a solemn, meditative piano piece.
  • Use a comma before a coordinating conjunction (fanboys: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) when it joins two related independent clauses.
    • The young woman volunteered at a local homeless shelter, and she wrote a paper about the challenges of homelessness.
    • Are you going to attend the basketball game, or do you plan to spend time at the library?
  • Use a comma after an introductory element, such as a dependent clause or a prepositional phrase.
    • When it began to rain, many students opened their umbrellas.
    • Before dawn, the young man frequently spends time in quiet meditation.
  • Used commas to set off words, phrases, or clauses that add nonessential information or details to the sentence.
    • Justin, father of a young family, decided to purchase a house.
    • Thelma lost her driver’s license, as expected, after she was caught drinking and driving.
  • Use commas to separate geographical information, addresses, and dates.
    • Tampa, Florida, USA
    • The applicant lived at 101 Main Street, Appleton, New York, 13723.
    • The academic calendar lists May 4, 2013, as the date for spring graduation.

 For additional resources on commas, see also:

 

 What is a dash?

A dash is a punctuation mark used to set off an idea within a sentence and may be used alone or in pairs. Dashes interrupt a thought in a more dramatic way than a phrase enclosed in commas, but less theatrically than parentheses. To form a dash, type two hyphens—without a space before, after, or between them—and your word processor will convert them to a dash.

What is an apostrophe?

An apostrophe is a punctuation mark used to show possession, to indicate the plural form of letters of the alphabet, and to form a contraction.

What is a semicolon?

A semicolon is a punctuation mark used to separate closely-related independent clauses. Stronger than a comma, a semicolon does not require the use of a coordinating conjunction.

What is a colon?

A colon is a punctuation mark used to separate significant parts of a sentence, particularly when the first part offers a sense of anticipation for the second. This form of punctuation is also used in other conventional applications as noted below.

In most instances, place a comma between two sentences that are joined with a coordinating conjunction--and, but, or, for, nor, so, yet:

  • She was not sure if she had the necessary mathematical abilities to be an engineer, so she pursued a graduate degree in history.
  • He was surrounded by fifty people, yet he felt all alone.

You do not need to place a comma between two independent clauses if they are short and similar in meaning, provided that no misunderstanding will take place, as illustrated in the following example:

  • Some doctors advertise their services but many doctors find this reprehensible.
  • The absence of the comma in this sentence is acceptable; it is not necessary to prevent misreading.

Other comma resources:

You should limit the number of times that you interrupt the flow of a sentence by placing modifying words between the subject and its verb. When you do introduce such appositives, participial phrases, or adjective phrases or clauses, you must determine whether the modifiers are restrictive or nonrestrictive. Essentially, restrictive modifiers add information that is essential to the meaning of the sentence, whereas nonrestrictive modifiers add information that is not essential. The best way to determine whether a modifier is restrictive or nonrestrictive is to see if taking it out changes the meaning of the sentence.

Restrictive: Lawyers who work for McGullity, Anderson, and Swenson need to take a course in copyediting.

In this case the relative clause is essential to the meaning of the sentence. If you embedded the clause in commas, then the meaning would change, suggesting that all lawyers need a course in copyediting.

Restrictive: The lawyer who has worked on this case for three years thinks that we have no chance of winning.

In this case the relative clause is essential to the meaning of the sentence. In other words, the sentence refers to only the lawyer who has worked on this case. The discussion is restricted to her.

Nonrestrictive: The lawyers, who have an office downtown, think that we have no chance of winning.

Because the location of the lawyer's office is superfluous to the gist of the sentence, it should be set off by commas.

 

Other comma resources:

At the end of your sentence, you need to be especially careful about where you place your commas. In particular, you need to question whether the modifying words are restrictive or nonrestrictive. For instance, suppose you received a memo from your writing instructor that said,

  • You should revise the essay, as I suggested.

To avoid confusion, use a comma after an introductory subordinate clause or phrase:

  • Because the costs of conducting research continue to increase, we need to raise our rates.
  • As the shrimp boats trawl, sea grass can collect on the trap door, allowing shrimp to escape.
  • According to the professor, rich women are more likely to have Cesarean sections than poor women.

In keeping with the modern trend toward using as little punctuation as possible, some stylists believe that it is not necessary to place a comma after short introductory words (now, thus, hence) and phrases (In 1982 he committed the same crime). However, conservative style manuals still call for the comma, so you are better off playing it safe and placing a comma after introductory words and clauses.

Other comma resources:

 

Although our modern style calls for using as few commas as possible, you should generally place a comma after conjunctive adverbs and transitional words because they modify the entire sentence:

  • Nevertheless, we must push forward with our plans.
  • In other words, you're fired. Hey, I'm just kidding.

Because commas cause readers to pause in their reading, you want to use them sparingly. Although logic would suggest that it makes sense to follow coordinating conjunctions with commas, convention does not call for this usage unless the conjunction is followed by an introductory phrase. Thus, it would he inappropriate to write:

  • Yet, I think we should go ahead as planned.

When a short phrase follows the conjunction at the beginning of the sentence, however, it is appropriate--although not absolutely necessary--to place a comma after the conjunction:

  • Yet, as I mentioned yesterday, I think we should go ahead as planned.

 

Other comma resources:

As demonstrated by the following examples, a series is composed of three or more parallel elements, and the series can appear in the beginning, middle, or end of a sentence:

  • Stretching, warming up, and cooling down are important to a good exercise program.
  • All of the necessary qualities of a good assistant -- typing, shorthand, and patience -- she had in abundance.
  • The three qualities of a good introduction are context, purpose, and organization.

Understand conventions for using commas and appreciate the likely effects of particular sentence lengths and patterns on reading comprehension.

Commas are like pawns in chess: They seem relatively insignificant and unobtrusive, yet they are actually very important. If properly placed, the lowly pawn can checkmate the king or, once it has reached the end of the board, become a more powerful piece. Commas play an extremely important role in ensuring that your documents are understandable. In fact, failing to insert a comma in the correct spot can cause considerable misreading (and subsequent embarrassment). Beyond a few special circumstances, there are six basic ways to use commas correctly.

Why should figurative language be used in engaging writing?

Figurative language makes a comparison that is not meant to be read literally; instead, figures of speech are intended to create a connection or highlight a significant part of a discussion. Certain literary devices—such as similes, metaphors, and personification—can help create word pictures for the reader. When persuasive writers use figurative language, they are more likely to engage their readers and make their argument more relevant and convincing.

Why should abstract terms be replaced with concrete, sensory terms?

The goal of a writer is to communicate ideas clearly. Since language that refers to intangible or immeasurable qualities can obscure meaning, abstract terms should be replaced with concrete terms. Language that connects with tangible and sensory (taste, smell, touch, sight, and sound) is easier for readers to understand and relate to.

Why is it important to use appropriate academic language?

The words writers choose reflect the formality or informality of the rhetorical situation. Academic writing often calls for the use of formal diction, in contrast to the less formal language of everyday conversation.

Why should unnecessary words and phrases be eliminated?

Unnecessary words and phrases result in redundancy. A writer can achieve efficiency in writing by using concise words and phrases that denote clear meaning. Each word should contribute to the argument and purpose of an assignment; if a word or phrase can be removed from a sentence without affecting its meaning, it should be eliminated.

Why is it important to use language that is sensitive to the target audience?

When writers use language that implies a biased or judgmental attitude, the audience may take offense and be less apt to listen to the writer’s argument. Language that is insensitive to gender, ethnicity, or disability should be avoided.

Why is it important to choose appropriate words?

The words writers choose are shaped (and sometimes limited) by the rhetorical situation—the audience, purpose, context, genre, and media of a piece of writing.

Skillful writers choose words that create a pleasing sense of harmony between the boundaries set by the rhetorical situation and their own style of writing. When writers choose words that fall outside those defining factors, or mistakenly choose wrong words, they are faced with the task of finding appropriate words to restore satisfying harmony.

What reference works can make word choice easier?

  • Dictionary (electronic or paper): Each entry provides the word’s definition(s) and an explanation of the word’s usage. Careful consideration of a word’s meaning (its semantic connotation) and its context should guide decisions about the word’s appropriateness.
  • Thesaurus (electronic or paper): Each entry provides a list of synonyms—words that have similar meanings. When a word does not fit the context as well as it should, but the general meaning should be preserved, a thesaurus can provide a synonym with a shade of meaning that is more suitable.

How can inappropriate words be replaced with appropriate words?

  • Determine which word or words are not appropriate, such as those that:
    • are not in harmony with the rhetorical situation
    • interfere with the meaning of the sentence 
    • may offend the reader 
    • have been chosen incorrectly following a spell check
  • Evaluate the factor(s) that makes the word(s) inappropriate.
  • If a slight change of meaning is needed, use a synonym that better suits the context.
  • If the wrong word has been chosen, use the language, message, and tone of the surrounding sentences to guide the choice of a completely new word. • Reread the sentence or passage in which a word or words have been replaced to check for proper meaning and word flow.
  • Instructors, peers, writing center consultants, or librarians may be able to provide guidance with appropriate word choice, and they can often provide assistance with the use of suitable reference works.

For more information about word choice, see also:

 

What is parallel structure?

Parallel structure is established when words within a sentence are united by consistent use of grammatical forms. This stylistic element is also referred to as parallelism or parallel construction.

Why is it important to use parallel structure?

Lack of parallel structure can disrupt the rhythm of a sentence, leaving it grammatically unbalanced. Proper parallel structure helps to establish balance and flow in a well-constructed sentence; the alignment of related ideas supports readability and clarity.

Why is it important to vary sentence structure?

Too many simple and compound sentences can make writing sound choppy, but too many complex and compound-complex sentences can make writing difficult to follow. Strive for a balance by combining sentences of various structures and lengths throughout your paper.

What are some common ways to structure a sentence?

Simple sentence: Contains a single subject and verb.

  • Example: The cell phone rang right before class.

Compound sentence: Contains two complete sentences (independent clauses) joined by a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so).

  • Example: The cell phone rang right before class, so the student quickly turned off her phone's ringer.

Complex sentence:Contains an independent clause joined by one or more dependent clauses.

  • Example: To avoid an interruption during class, the student turned off her phone's ringer.

Compound-complex sentence: Contains a combination of a compound sentence and a complex sentence.

  • Example: In order to keep her attention focused on class activities, the student turned off her phone's ringer, and she put her ear buds in her backpack.