1/31/11 11:59 AMThe Nuts and Bolts of College WritingPage 1 of 10Presentation|Punctuation|Topten mistakesCommasplices| Semicolons| Colons| Dashes| Parentheses| Questionmarks and exclamation marks| Italicsandemphasis| Emphasis withquotation marks| Single quotation marks| EmoticonsPunctuationhelpsreadersbreakwriting into logicalunits,makingiteasiertofollow.Punctuation includes all the conventional signs used to separatewords: spaces, first-line indentation of paragraphs, blank lines,uppercase letters, and various marks or stops (commas, periods,semicolons, and so on). Punctuation is conventional rather than scientific, and hasevolved over time. The earliest written languages, in fact, had no punctuation at all,writers just RANWORDSTOGETHERFORASLONGASTHEYCAREDTOWRITE(every so often a bold pioneer would introduce a reader-friendly innovation likeLowerCaseLetters or spaces between words).In the modern world punctuation is an important thing to get right in formalwriting. Readers of formal writing interpret punctuation mistakes as a sign of pooreducation or carelessness, and in either case tend to discount the work's validity.HereNuts and Boltspresents a brief treatment of the use and abuse of the majorpunctuation marks.Choices in punctuation can greatly affect meaning. Indeed if you mess withpunctuation enough you can turn the meaning upside down:Dear John,I want a man who knows what loveis all about. You are generous, kind,thoughtful. People who are not likeyou admit to being useless andinferior. You have ruined me forother men. I yearn for you. I haveno feelings whatsoever when we'reapart. I can be forever happy—willDear John,I want a man who knows what loveis. All about you are generous, kind,thoughtful people, who are not likeyou. Admit to being useless andinferior. You have ruined me. Forother men, I yearn. For you, I haveno feelings whatsoever. When we'reapart, I can be forever happy. Will
1/31/11 11:59 AMThe Nuts and Bolts of College WritingPage 2 of 10you let me be yours?Gloriayou let me be?Yours,GloriaThanks to Paul Faatz for this example.Fortunately, repunctuating doesn't usually have such drastic consequences. Butpunctuating properly is still a vital part of good writing, and it's something thatgives students fits and starts. Here we want to focus on just a few of the mostcommon punctuation troublespots: comma splices, semi-colons, colons, dashes, andparentheses.Comma splicesA comma splice occurs when two independent clauses are connected by a comma:Planck's ideas seemed incredible, many scholars simply ignored him.Fix comma splices in a variety of ways. Easiest is to put each independent clausein its own sentence:Planck's ideas seemed incredible. Many scholars simply ignored him.