In academic writing, punctuation act as a guide to help readers get through the ideas expressed in sentences, just like road signs for drivers to be provided with valuable information.
Learning punctuation is as necessary for readers as road signs are for drivers!
Writers use different types of punctuation marks, to guide the reader to clearly understand the message and tell them when to slow down, speed up, pause and emphasize certain words. This is equivalent to certain oral queues when we communicate verbally.
The correct use of punctuation is a key skill in writing!
Following you will be introduced with different punctuation marks and their use in academic writing:
The period is the first and the most simple question mark everyone learns in the school, when we begin reading and writing. It is one of the three punctuation marks used to end a sentence, the other two are the question mark and the exclamation mark.
When to use periods
- At the end of declarative sentences: E.g.: The period completes a sentence that makes a statement.
- At the end of commands: E.g.: Give me a bag.
- At the end of indirect questions: E.g.: I know why John did not go to his grandmother's house.
- In abbreviations: In academic writing, periods, called full stop in British English, are also used to denote an abbreviation that has been used, including et alii = et al., et cetera = etc., nota bene = n.b., conferre = cf., Senior = Sr., and ibidem = ibid.
- In website addresses: E.g.: www.cikd.ca
The comma acts as a separator between words or phrases within and is the most frequently used punctuation mark, after the period.
Due to its various technical uses, the comma is also one of the most misused of the common punctuation marks.
If used incorrectly or omitted in a writing piece, readers will definitely face cohesive problems and misunderstandings!
When to use commas
- After the introductory part of a sentence: However, I'll have to use all of my savings.
- Before or surrounding the name or title of a person directly addressed: Will you, Aisha, fill in that form for me.
- To separate dependent clauses from the main clause: The book, claimed Smith, was found in an attic.
- In a series, to separate a list of items: She bought milk, eggs, and bread.
- Comes between modifiers: He is a strong, healthy man.
- To separate the day of the month from the year: Anna met her husband on December 5, 2003, in Sweden.
- To separate the statement from the tag question: I can go, can't I?
A semicolon separates two independent clauses in a compound sentence. This punctuation mark is used to link two independent clauses that are closely related in thought in a single sentence. Semicolon gives the two independent clauses equal position or rank.
When to use commas
- Connect two complete sentences: E.g.: Some people write with a word processor; others write with a pen or pencil.
- Separates items of a list when one contains a comma: There are basically two ways to write: with a pen or pencil, which is inexpensive and easily accessible; or by computer and printer, which is more expensive but quick and neat.
- Between two independent clauses connected by conjunctive adverbs or transitional phrases: E.g.: However they choose to write, people are allowed to make their own decisions; as a result, many people swear by their writing methods.
The colon is used to connecting two sentences when the second sentence summarizes, sharpens, or explains the first. Colon means "that is to say" or "here's what I mean." The colon must always follow a complete sentence and is not used after a sentence fragment.
When to use a colon
- To introduce a list: A formal report includes nine elements: title page, abstract, table of contents, introduction, body, conclusions, recommendations, references and appendix/appendices.
- To explain or summarize the meaning in a sentence by introducing a word, phrase or clause: Students generally use one word for describing their feelings about learning how to use written English correctly: empowering.
- To separate the title from the subtitle: Writing for university: A student guide to successful essays
- To introduce a quotation in formal academic writing: Shakespeare said it best: “To thine own self be true.”
An ellipsis is a punctuation mark with three dots. It is used when omitting a word, phrase, line, or paragraph to save space or remove less-relevant material. Ellipsis leads the reader right to the point without delay or distraction.
When to use an ellipsis
- At the beginning or middle of a paragraph or sentence, in place of the part deleted: "… After hours of careful thought, we vetoed the bill."
- To express hesitation, changes of mood, suspense, or thoughts trailing off: I don't know … I'm not sure.
Brackets, also called square brackets, are punctuation marks often used to show that words have been added to a direct quotation. They are used for special purposes such as in technical manuals. The square bracket allows the writer an opportunity to fix mistakes, add explanatory information, change a quote to fit in a sentence, or add emphasis to a word through bold or italics, according to YourDictionary. The information between brackets is addition, not a substitution and if removed, the meaning of the sentence would remain unchanged.
Parenthesis, also called round brackets, is used to add information to a sentence to provide greater details. They are used within a sentence to include information that is not essential to the main point. Similar to the brackets, the information in the parentheses cannot alter the meaning of the quoted material.
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