Punctuation Clarification


As an author your main concern should be writing a story that people want to read. This means you’re concerned with character development, the story line, the dialogue and continuity. Those pesky technical details are for the most part forgotten during the time when the creation is being made. After all you’re an artist and during this phase it really is best to just write. Other than formatting while you write (see previous blog post) the rest of it can be thrown out the window. Editing is not done or even needed until the first rough draft is completed.

When you get to this point you will need to read the manuscript to proofread for typos, grammar, continuity and punctuation. This is when you are to find the errors that will keep it from being a good story. This post is going to deal with punctuation.

Punctuation is something many authors struggle with, especially where and when to use commas. In dialog the comma goes just before the end quote marks unless it’s a question and in this case it is a question mark (?) that goes before the end quote. Other uses of commas is to help clarify a statement or question in the sentence. A good rule is to read it out loud to see where the pauses take place. These pauses are a good indicator that a comma needs to go there.

There are of course other punctuation marks such as colons, semicolons, dashes, ellipses, and brackets.

A colon (:) is used with a list, either bulleted, number or inline, but not after a linking verb or preposition. (Ex: His favorite poets are these: Milton, Donne, and Keats.) Use a colon in place of a comma before long or formal direct quotes. (Ex: This was his quote: “I like him.”) Use a colon between two clauses where one explains or amplifies the other. (Ex: One characteristic that accounts for his success: complete honesty.) Use a colon before a clause intended to restate in different form the preceding statement. (Ex: Except for the differences of subject matter, the rules of grammar are exactly like the rules of physics and chemistry: they are scientific generalizations about the facts.)

A semicolon (;) is used when two closely related ideas or statements could stand alone as a sentence, but using a period creates too sharp of a separation. (Ex: Your car is new; mine is eight years old.)

The first thing we should do is to distinguish between dashes and hyphens. Hyphens are shorter lines and are used in hyphenated words like mother-in-law. Dashes are never required by the rules of grammar and punctuation and using them too much can disrupt the flow of your writing and make it difficult to follow.

Dashes are used as the opposite of parentheses as the set material off for emphasis. They can also be used to add drama to a sentence. (Ex: After many years living in the state Geno realized it was time to revisit his home land – Italy.) They can also be used to place an entire sentence into the middle of another. (Ex: I just love the new place I’m living – from the mature trees and quaint little shops – because it reminds me of where I grew up.)

An ellipsis is a set of three periods ( . . . ) indicating an omission. Each period should have a single space on either side, except when adjacent to a quotation mark, in which case there should be no space. In informal writing, an ellipsis can be used to represent a trailing off of thought. An ellipsis can also indicate hesitation, though in this case the punctuation is more accurately described as suspension points.


The most commonly used brackets are parentheses otherwise known as rounded brackets. Use parentheses to enclose information that clarifies. If material in parentheses ends a sentence, the period goes after the parentheses. (Ex: He gave me a nice bonus ($500).) They can also be used as an aside where the information is not really necessary. (Ex: George Washington (the first president of the United States) gave his farewell address in 1796.)

Square brackets are used when information is added to a quote. (Ex: The big secret is there is no secret. Whatever your goal, you can get there if you’re willing to work [on that goal].

Angled brackets have very limited use in writing. They primarily set off highlighted material.

If you liked this post or have any ideas of your own, please comment down below!

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