Good punctuation is crucial for successful academic writing. Many students use little punctuation in their essays beyond commas and full stops. But to be restricted to just two forms of punctuation mark, when writing your essay, is like building a house using only a hammer and a saw: you can do it; but not very well.
By learning to use more, or all, of the available forms of punctuation you will be able to communicate and express your ideas, and arguments, more clearly.
Full stops have three distinct uses:
1. To mark the end of a sentence
2. To indicate abbreviated words a full stop indicates an abbreviation, unless first and last letters of the word are shown.
3. To punctuate numbers and dates
A colon can be used:
1. To indicate that a list, quotation or summary is about to follow;
2. To separate an initial sentence/clause from a second clause, list, phrase or quotation that supports the first in a particular way.
1. Separates two complete sentences that are, however, closely linked.
The semicolon can be replaced by a full stop, but the direct link between the two parts is lost.
2. Serves as a second level of punctuation in a series of words or phrases which already have commas making some internal divisions.
Commas have a vital role to play in longer sentences, separating information into readable units.
1. A single comma ensures correct reading of a sentence which starts with a longish introductory element.
2. Pairs of commas help in the middle of a sentence to set off any string of words which is either a parenthesis, or in contrast, to whatever went before.
3. A set of commas is a means of separating items in a list.
4. Sometimes a comma is needed between the last two items to ensure clarity.
A question mark is used at the end of a sentence which is a question.
There are two uses for the apostrophe:
1) Contractions - A contraction is a shortened version of a word. An apostrophe is used to show that something has been left out, and where it has been left out.
2) Possessives - An apostrophe is used to indicate ownership/possession with nouns. To show ownership by a single individual, insert the apostrophe between the noun and the 's'. To show ownership by more than one individual, use the apostrophe at the end of the word.
Note: Be careful: It's is the contraction of it is. It's is not a possessive (a possessive denotes ownership).
When used correctly, a hyphen links two or more words, that normally would not be placed together, in order that they work as one idea. These are called compound nouns.
Hyphens should not be confused with dashes. Dashes re like brackets; they enclose extra information. A colon and semicolon would work just as well in the example opposite. Dashes are rarely used in academic writing.
1. Although often used in pairs, dashes can also be used singularly.
2. Although often used in pairs, dashes can also be used singularly.
1. Parentheses are brackets used to include extra or nonessential material in sentences. Parentheses should be used sparingly and always appear in pairs.
2. In citation systems like Harvard, parentheses are used to include in-text references.
An exclamation mark is used at the end of a sentence and indicates surprise, anger, or alarm. Exclamation marks should be used very sparingly and are not often used in academic writing.
An ellipsis consists of three full stops. It indicates that material has been left out of a quotation. When quoting, it is sometimes necessary to leave out words or lines for reasons of relevance or length. Using an ellipsis makes any omissions known to your reader.