Punctuation is one of the most important aspects of written English, and yet is taken the most lightly. Words are one of our most powerful weapons but we render it impotent by violating very simple rules of punctuation. Punctuation works as a visual cue that tells readers what the writer is saying, and how they are saying it by providing clarity, tone, and personality. When used correctly punctuation makes writing exciting, dynamic, and more personable. When used incorrectly, punctuation makes communication confusing, dull, and a chore to read. Using the wrong punctuation makes a writer’s work poor, annoying and tacky. This puts their credibility at stake and may actually damage it. .
There are myriads of possible punctuation errors; below is a list of the most common errors
- Putting a period or comma outside of a quote
Wrong: “I’ve been told things are different in Africa”.
Correct: “I’ve been told things are different in Africa.”
- Adding Extra Dots to Ellipses (…)
Ellipses are a valuable tool in writing. They allow the writer to omit words from direct quotes (not to change meaning of course, but to clarify and condense). When omitting text, three and onlythree dots should be used unless the omitted text coincides with the end of your sentence. Then, there should be a fourth dot, which is actually a period. Where writers usually go wrong with ellipses is when they want to indicate trailing off in thought (as if going on some rant about misused punctuation…) When using the ellipsis to do that, still only use three dots! Trailing off with more than three is just plain tacky……
- Using more than one exclamation point!!!
- Putting Apostrophes on Acronyms
CD’s, DVD’s, TV’s etc. is wrong. The rule for apostrophes is that they are for contractions (like “don’t” and “wasn’t”) and possession.
- Using its for it’s
‘Its’ is used as a possessive pronoun.
e.g. The cat carried its kitten in its mouth.
‘It’s’ is a contraction of it is or it has.
e.g. I think it’s going to rain today.
- Using hyphens in place of en dashes or em dashes.
En dashes are longer than hyphens but shorter than em dashes. En dashes are used to indicate a period of time, usually in place of the word “to”. If your resume says you worked 2010 to 2012, it should look like this: 2010 – 2012. It should NOT look like this: 2010-2012.
Em dashes— which are a sophisticated and useful form of punctuation used to create sentence complexity—are longer than an en dash (usually the width of two hyphens, or the length of a capital ‘M’). Em dashes are often used like parentheses, but they emphasize information, as opposed to making it a side note.
- Using colons incorrectly
INCORRECT: “I’m going to buy some: milk, flour, eggs, and soap.”
CORRECT: “I’m going to buy some milk, flour, eggs, and soap.”
CORRECT: “I need to buy a few key things: flour, milk, eggs, and soap.
- Mixing up commas and semicolons
Commas and semicolons are not the same thing. Semicolons are used to link two independent clauses; otherwise, use a comma.
INCORRECT: The sun is bright today, we need to put on some sunglasses.
CORRECT: The sun is bright today; we need to put on some sunglasses.
- Using quotes. If you’re including the exact words someone said, put them in quotes. If you are paraphrasing, don’t use quotes.