Punctuation is an Important Part of Good Writing

Today is Thursday, so this post is on communication skills.

Writing is an important communication skill.  Punctuation is an important part of writing.  Alex Greer’s most recent newsletter had an interesting article on punctuation.  Alex is a friend of mine, and has graciously allowed me to reprint it here.  You can sign up for Alex’s newsletter by going to www.justtoobusy.co.uk.

Here is what Alex has to say about punctuation…

If, like me on occasion, you wonder just where that apostrophe should go or if your comma is in the right place then these top tips on using punctuation correctly are just what you need.
Number 1 – The possessive apostrophe!

No, this isn’t about a badly behaved and jealous punctuation mark!  Using apostrophes is where I see the most errors in writing.

This is because a wrongly placed apostrophe doesn’t change the emphasis or sound of a sentence or word, which you would pick up on if reading that sentence back to yourself or indeed when you are reading a sentence that someone else has written to you.  So here are two tips in one:

  • When, for example, writing about an object that belongs to someone the apostrophe should go after that person’s name, even if their name ends in an s – but don’t add another s.  So that is: James’ car, Molly’s house, the dog’s bone.
  • You don’t need an apostrophe when you use plurals.  The most common example of this is when people write about years or decades.  I.e. ‘The 1990’s started out badly for Simon’, or, ‘It’s not like it was back in the in the 20’s’.  You don’t need an apostrophe here – the years don’t possess anything, it is just a plural.  There might be exception to this (there usually are in grammar) but I can’t think of one – please let me know if you can!

Number 2 – The common comma

I love commas!  They make writing come to life.  They create pauses, a change of emphasis, reinforce meaning and they enable the reader to ‘hear’ what the writer was thinking as they were writing and much, much.  Here are ways to use commas effectively:

  • As you write hear the words in your head and when you hear a pause, you probably want a comma.  Read the words out loud too – this makes the uses or omission of commas obvious, especially when you need to take a breath!
  • Don’t use a comma before the word and – you can use it afterwards though.  E.g. Michael, Jenny and, of course, myself went to dinner.
  • Use a comma after the word however – even if it is the first word of your sentence and before the word which.  E.g. However, Susan couldn’t make dinner that night, which was a shame.  These are non-negotiable uses of comma – not using commas in this way is grammatically incorrect.

Number 3 – E.g. and I.e.

Most people know what e.g. stands for: for example.  Did you know that I.e. stands for ‘That is’?  If you do I’m not surprised, but a lot of people make mistakes when using e.g. and i.e. in their writing.

They should always be written with a full stop after each letter, regardless of the rest of the sentence’s construction.

When written in full and in the context of this usage, For example, and That is, should always be followed by a comma.

They are also often used in the wrong context.  I find it easy to remember that you if you have to give someone an idea of what you are talking about then use e.g. or for example.  If you want to provide a clear explanation of your previous statement or a specific example, then use that is.

Number 4 – …And I quote

Quotation marks are another one that it is easy to get wrong.  Do you use the single or the double quote marks, for example?  But there is a specific mistake that is a grammatical pet peeve of mine and that is when writing a quote and then putting the beginning and ending punctuation marks in the wrong place.  Well, it’s easier to show you what I mean:

When talking about punctuation, Alex said, "I wish that everybody knew how to correctly punctuate a quoted sentence" and I agreed with her.

This is a correctly punctuated, quoted sentence.  The following rules apply to using quotes:

  • Use double quote marks to open and close your quote.
  • If you mention a speaker before the quote and use the phrase: Alex said or says, then the said or says should be followed by a comma.
  • If you mention a speaker at the end of the quote then you should put a comma after the closing quote marks, e.g. "It can be easy to get punctuation wrong", said Alex.
  • The first word of your quote should be a capital letter.
  • If the quote ends at the end of your overall sentence then you should place the full stop inside the ending double quote marks, not outside.  You do not need another full stop outside of the quote marks, i.e. .".
  • If your quote does not end the sentence then you do not need a full stop inside the quote marks.
    I could go on…

Number 5 – Its and it’s – isn’t it?

This is a specific version of the possessive apostrophe usage but one that is really easy to get wrong – I find myself having to stop every now and again to make sure I have got the usage right.

And here’s a simple way to check:  read the sentence with the dubious its or it’s in it and replace the offending word with it is.  If this changes the intended meaning or your sentence then you are using the wrong it!  That simple, but here’s an example of what I mean:

Its very easy to make this mistake; read out loud with it is instead of its will highlight the fact that you need an apostrophe: It’s very easy to make this mistake.

The dog is biting it’s tail; read out loud with it is instead of it’s will highlight the fact that you should take out the apostrophe: The dog is biting its tail.  This is the exception to the possessive apostrophe rule in Tip 1.

This is some great common sense advice on punctuation from Alex Greer.  And as Alex says, “Using punctuation correctly not only enhances the effectiveness of your writing, it also makes it easier for you to write and easier for others to read.”

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  Log on to my website www.BudBilanich.com to subscribe to my monthly ezine and for more common sense.  Check out my other blog: www.CommonSenseGuy.com for common sense advice on leading people and running a small business.

I’ll see you around the web, and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.


PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand – my fundraising page is still open.  Please go to www.FirstGiving.com/TheCommonSenseGuy to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.

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