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Perfecting Your Punctuation


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I distribute these slides to my students to help them become more precise writers. I sometimes even bore them with it in class, but I don't recommend that.

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Perfecting Your Punctuation

  1. 1. Perfecting Your Punctuation <ul><ul><li>William E. Sledzik </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>aka, Professor ToughSledding </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Disclaimer : The many examples used in these slides are drawn from textbooks, workbooks, lecture notes -- even student papers -- over my 20+ years in the classroom. Some may have been lifted from copyrighted sources and have long since become separated from their credit lines. I owe special thanks to Laura Kessler and Duncan MacDonald, authors of “When Words Collide and to Carole Rich, whose text “Writing and Reporting News” is my guidebook for teaching the style of writing we use most often in public relations. </li></ul>
  2. 2. Perfecting Your Punctuation <ul><li>Periods </li></ul><ul><ul><li>End sentences </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Punctuate some abbreviations </li></ul></ul>
  3. 3. Perfecting Your Punctuation <ul><li>Question marks </li></ul><ul><ul><li>End direct questions </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Do you want to know what’s happening in Iraq? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Don’t use if the question is indirect </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The world wants to know what’s happening in Iraq. </li></ul></ul>
  4. 4. Perfecting Your Punctuation <ul><li>Exclamation marks express strong emotion or surprise. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Place them inside quotation marks if exclamation is part of the quote. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>A comma isn’t needed if “!” is part of quoted material. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“ You can’t make me testify!” the angry man shouted. </li></ul></ul>
  5. 5. Commas <ul><li>Commas separate items in a series. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The new superintendent enjoys sailing, cooking and stamp collecting. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Per AP Style, no comma between the last two items in the series. </li></ul></ul>
  6. 6. Commas <ul><li>Commas separate two independent clauses connected by a coordinating conjunction. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Volcanic activity continues on the mountain, but U.S. Forest Service officials said they will continue to issue hiking permits. </li></ul></ul>
  7. 7. Commas <ul><li>Commas set off long introductory clauses and phrases and some shorter clauses and phrases that would be confusing without the comma. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>When the fire alarm went off for the third time that night, the motel clerk finally called the fire department. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Every day, journalists are asked to make sense of an increasingly complex world. </li></ul></ul>
  8. 8. Commas <ul><li>Commas set off non-restrictive (nonessential) clauses, phrases and modifiers from the rest of the sentence. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Evans, who was denied parole in his last two visits before the board, appears again tomorrow to argue that 15 years of a 25-year sentence is punishment enough. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Hint : If the sentence makes sense without the nonrestrictive clause, it is “nonessential” and should be bracketed in commas. </li></ul></ul>
  9. 9. Commas <ul><li>Commas separate descriptive modifiers of equal rank. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Meteorologists forecast another cold, dreary midwestern night. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Scientists will not predict the next activity of the fickle, explosive volcano. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Hint: If you can put “and” between the modifiers, they are of equal value and require the comma. </li></ul></ul>
  10. 10. Commas <ul><li>Commas set off parenthetical expressions. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The same council members , you may recall, voted themselves a 35-percent pay increase last year. </li></ul></ul>
  11. 11. Commas <ul><li>Commas help when the absence of a pause can cause confusion. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>For the mayor, going fishing is a real vacation. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Circling the brewery, workers kept a silent vigil to protest unsafe working conditions. </li></ul></ul>
  12. 12. Commas <ul><li>Commas set off participles that modify some part of the independent clause. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The Senate adjourned today, having successfully defeated a filibustering attempt. </li></ul></ul>
  13. 13. Misuse of Commas <ul><li>Don’t use a comma to separate two independent clauses that don’t have a coordinating conjunction. That’s called a comma splice . </li></ul><ul><ul><li>NO </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The inflation rate dipped to 3 percent, the unemployment rate stayed constant. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>YES </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The inflation rate dipped to 3 percent; the unemployment rate stayed constant. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The inflation rate dipped to 3 percent, and the unemployment rate stayed constant. </li></ul></ul>
  14. 14. Misuse of Commas <ul><li>Don’t use a comma to introduce a subordinate clause. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>NO </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The mayor decided to inspect the chemical spill, because she needed a first-hand report. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>YES </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The mayor decided to inspect the chemical spill because she needed a first-hand report. </li></ul></ul>
  15. 15. Misuse of Commas <ul><li>Don’t use a comma between a word and a phrase it amplifies if it will create a “false series.” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>NO </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Rescuers discovered seven bodies, six transients and one firefighter. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>YES </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Rescuers discovered seven bodies: six transients and one firefighter. </li></ul></ul>
  16. 16. Misuse of Commas <ul><li>Don’t use a comma to precede a partial quotation. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>NO </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The mayoral candidate said the incumbent was, “a charlatan of the lowest order.” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>YES </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The mayoral candidate said the incumbent was “a charlatan of the lowest order.” </li></ul></ul>
  17. 17. Semicolons <ul><li>Semicolons create a half-stop. Most media writers opt for two separate sentences using periods. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Use semicolons to join independent clauses not connected by a coordinating conjunction </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The inflation rate dipped to 3 percent; the unemployment rate stayed constant. </li></ul></ul>
  18. 18. Semicolons <ul><li>Use semicolons to punctuate internally punctuated independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The Klansmen, who number more than 50,000, threatened to march through the tense city; but their application for a parade permit was immediately denied. </li></ul></ul>
  19. 19. Semicolons <ul><li>Use semicolons to set off parts of a series that also contain commas. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Killed in the early morning collision were Aaron Jepson, 37, of Home Station; his wife Juliet, 22; their children, Thomas, 2; Jane 3; and Richard, 4. </li></ul></ul>
  20. 20. Dashes <ul><ul><li>Dashes help change direction or create emphasis. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Dashes create a longer pause than a comma (for effect). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Dashes are NOT interchangeable with hyphens. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>To help you remember </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Dashes separate </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Hyphens connect </li></ul></ul></ul>
  21. 21. Dashes <ul><li>Use a dash to end a sentence in a surprising or ironic element. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The tall man entered the country with a valid passport, two pieces of luggage, an expensive camera around his neck—and 16 ounces of uncut heroin in the heels of his shoes. </li></ul></ul>
  22. 22. Dashes <ul><li>Use a dash to set off a long clause or phrase when it makes information clearer or more distinct. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Jabbar—long on talent, long on patience and more than ever long in the tooth—may never relinquish his title as the “grand old man of basketball.” </li></ul></ul>
  23. 23. Hyphens <ul><li>Use hyphens to join compound modifiers. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>a good-natured person </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>a well-educated woman </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Use a hyphen for combinations where prepositions are omitted. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>the Cleveland-Detroit flight </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>a 14-7 score </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>the autumn-spring cycle </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>NOTE: Writers often confuse hyphens and dashes. To create a dash on your word processor, click the hyphen key twice. </li></ul></ul>
  24. 24. Ellipsis <ul><li>Use an ellipsis where material is omitted. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“ I can no longer serve this community,” the superintendent said. “I’ve tried my best…I’ve always been fair….” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Include a fourth dot when it ends a sentence (period). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Don’t use the ellipsis to preface a list. Use a colon. </li></ul></ul>
  25. 25. Using Quotation Marks <ul><li>To enclose direct quotations & dialogue </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“ You must arrive to class on time,” the professor said. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“ Why is that important?” the student asked. </li></ul></ul>
  26. 26. Using Quotation Marks <ul><li>To denote book titles and nicknames </li></ul><ul><ul><li>His favorite book is “The Red Badge of Courage.” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Have you ever read “The Red Badge of Courage”? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>John Wayne is “The Duke.” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>No one played cowboy roles like “The Duke”! </li></ul></ul>
  27. 27. Using Quotation Marks <ul><li>Punctuation goes inside the quotation marks. </li></ul><ul><li>Periods and commas always go inside quotes. </li></ul><ul><li>“ Workers are looking to us for peaceful solutions,” Jones said. </li></ul>
  28. 28. Using Quotation Marks <ul><li>Question marks and exclamations go inside quotes if they are part of the quoted material. </li></ul><ul><li>The governor asked, “Do you believe that your quality of life has improved in the past four years?” </li></ul><ul><li>“ Give me my dignity!” the prisoner pleaded. </li></ul>
  29. 29. Using Quotation Marks <ul><li>Question marks and exclamations go outside quotes if they are not part of the quoted material. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Have you seen “Pulp Fiction”? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>No, I haven’t tried the “Tofu Diet Book”! </li></ul></ul>
  30. 30. Perfecting Your Punctuation <ul><li>Master the punctuation rules laid out in the 30 slides and you’ll understand 90 percent of what careful writers must know to also be “correct” writers. </li></ul><ul><li>And drop me a line when you find a typo. There’s bound to be at least one in there! </li></ul>