Proper Punctuation

Written by Jeremy Horelick
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Using proper punctuation is enough to give even good writers the occasional nightmare. Do you use commas between the penultimate and ultimate nouns in a list (otherwise known as serial commas)? How about semicolons? Are they literally half a colon, and if so, how do you use them? Do you capitalize the first letter in a clause set off by a colon? These are but a few of the typical questions that arise when drafting a letter or memo, writing an e-mail or short story, or just reading the paper.

The function of proper punctuation is to preserve the meaning and style of a written piece. As such, the punctuation should not call attention to itself. As with the overall structure of your piece, punctuation works best when it's invisible to your reader. Some sections of your writing may call for heavy punctuation while others may demand less. Either way, your prose should remain fluid throughout, aided along the way by punctuation signposts that keep the reader on track.

Learning Proper Punctuation

The bad news for most people is that punctuation dredges up memories of seventh or eighth grade, which isn't necessarily fresh in the mind. The good news, however, is that proper punctuation is eminently learnable. Anyone who can memorize enough rules to pass a driver license exam can probably master punctuation without too much adversity.

One way to do so is to buy any of the adequate books on the market. So abundant are these that it wouldn't be surprising to find a punctuation shelf within the writing section at your local bookstore. There are also several good web sites and software packages that offer punctuation help to the dash doubtful and the "apostrophobic."


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