> What's the ending punctuation
for a rhetorical question?
Ex: The question we must
ask is, how can we make this company better?
If the question is stated by the writer, it's fine as is. You might also
The question we must ask:
"How can we make this company better?"
We're not big fans of punctuation after forms of "to be." If you wish to
keep this more informal, replace the colon above with a comma.
Another way to avoid the dilemma is to rephrase.
we make this company better is a question we must ask.
"How we make this company better": a
question we must ask.
Though a fragment, it puts the key question
> How do you punctuate
bullet point lists?
Omit ending punctuation when the point is NOT
a complete thought.
Complete thoughts don't have to end with a
period. Just be consistent throughout your document.
> When should a period be used
Usually, abbreviations are indicated
by periods after each letter:
> C.I.A. (Central Intelligence Agency)
> F.B.I. (Fed. Bur. of Investigation)
But "TV" is not a true abbreviation; it's an acronym for "Television."
And it's spoken aloud by letter.
Thus, "NOAA" (National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration) would not need periods if spoken as
> What's the correct use
of colons after prepositions?
As with linking verbs (is, are),
except one-word lists.
Did you know?
In 2010, Punctuation Junction had more
than 5,000 hits,
more than 10 per day.
We're honored to be named
a recommended reference site by more than a dozen colleges and
Keep it short—period.
For optimum readability, the average sentence should be 11-17 words.
To encourage readership, vary the length of sentences and paragraphs.
Break up long paragraphs containing more than 6 lines of type,
especially when there are 2 or more in a row.
A period has a simple task. When your parents said: "That's the way it
you knew that was the end of the discussion.
No longer necessary to put 2 spaces
after each period. Save the key stroke.
Steve's tips on periods:
Place periods after bullet points that express a complete thought.
Fragments don't get one. If you choose to ignore this, at least
be consistent throughout your document or PowerPoint slides.
Periods make horrible bullet points.
Use an emdash (see below) or double
hyphen (see Dash
— Or try this: turn on the Number lock key (Num Lock);
then type Alt +0183 > Enter. You'll get a dot.
...after contractions |
1st | 2nd |
3rd | 4th
after names |
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Commatosis can be cured.
Commatosis is a condition created by
writers who edit documents by inserting
a comma each time they take a breath.
Use commas to help readers figure out
intended relationships and meanings:
short notice statements will be issued.
(Is that "short notice" or "notice statements"?)
By inserting a comma after "notice," the reader
have to stop and think about the intended meaning.
On short notice, statements will be issued.
your reader understands the meaning of your sentence you can
omit the comma
(as in this sentence, where some might insert
a comma between ". . .sentence, you...").
Omitting commas works best with
Want to be sure? Have someone read it aloud. If there's
or stop reading
to figure it out. Add a comma to correct the problem.
When in doubt, you might not
want to leave 'em out.
Steve's tips on commas:
While consistency dictates that
items in a series (ex: red,
white, and blue) be preceded by commas, omit the final comma
only when you know
that the reader understands the relationship.
their father's will, drawn up by the family attorney,
"Harriet, Bill and Eric" were to receive equal shares
their father's $4 million estate. Harriet went to court, claiming
that the absence of a comma between Bill and Eric indicated
father wanted the two brothers to get only 50%
of the estate, not
33% each. The judge ruled in her favor:
Harriet got $2 million; Bill and
Eric each got $1 million.
Titles after names:
Separate short complementary
adjectives for emphasis:
Terry is an efficient hard-working employee.
But, to show equal weight for efficient and hard-work:
Terry is an
efficient, hard-working employee.
The comma creates a pause,
thus emphasis on "efficient."
delivered a speech; then he returned to work.
He delivered a speech, then he returned to work.
delivered a speech. He then returned to work.
delivered a speech, then returned to work.
Dates: American English places a
comma between the day
and year: April 5, 1948. British,
military, and aviation usage
reorder the elements: day, month, and
year. No punctuation
5 April 1948.
There's no comma between a month and year:
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no reason to fear this mark; let's make it simple.
The semicolon is the
of Punctuation Marks. It joins 2 complete
that share something
He reads Drucker; he speaks Toffler.
(for brevity: He reads Drucker;
speaks Toffler. < "he" is understood)
example demonstrates the best application of semicolons
in business documents.
Use them sparingly to separate short related
of less than 9-12 words.
The shorter the better.
use of semicolons signals a higher level of communication.
your credibility in the mind of the reader.
(2 shared thoughts; same verb)
tips on semicolons:
Semicolons are stronger than commas; they signal
a stronger break; suggest a longer pause; but even
so, are weaker than a
— gives a feeling of expectancy;
— hey, read on;
— there's more to come to make it clear.
Semicolons bring order to strings of commas.
Attending the morning session are
Lanette, and Marianna; Andres and
prefer the afternoon workshop.
He toured Madrid, Spain; and Paris, France.
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Colons: they fulfill
what's to come and introduce long lists.
It's a rather
strong mark that tells the reader: pay attention.
follows is the "here's
That said: (...and
now I'll tell you what's really important)
Dear Sir Edgar: (what's to
follow is either
serious, formal, or both)
greatest misuse of colons is after prepositions or linking verbs:
> Your trip is approved to:
Paris, Madrid, and Milan.
> Your trip is approved to Paris, Madrid, and Milan.
trip itinerary is approved: Paris, Madrid, and Milan.
> The committee's choice of colors
are: red, blue, and green.
committee's choice of colors are red, blue, and green.
> The committee chose these colors: red, blue, and green.
(See the first bullet point below for an exception.)
Ban colons after
tips on colons:
Don't place colons after prepositions—with 1 exception:
Use them to introduce a series of 1– or 2–word bullet lists:
The supply cabinet is in need of:
· rubber bands
Use colons to set up long quotes (greater than 3-4 lines).
In letters, there's a significant difference
between a colon
and comma in the salutation:
(respect; serious content to follow)
(informal or friendly relationship)
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What's missing after question marks?
Effective business documents are concise and precise.
Thus, the only effective use of a question mark is to set up an answer
that immediately follows
this mark. Or it can serve as a
to which the reader already knows the answer.
When used to request action, tell your reader who, when,
where, and in what form
the action should be taken.
Imagine receiving the following memo from your boss:
Here's the topic for
discussion at our Tuesday staff meeting:
"How to lower office overhead?"
Does this mean:
Think up some
answers in your spare time?
Write them down and
bring them to the meeting?
Submit 3 recommendations to me before the meeting?
Time and energy are wasted when requests fail to specify format and
Replace the question mark with the specific request?
Send me an office email
before Monday with 3 cost-saving procedures
that we can implement
immediately to lower office overhead.
To ensure efficacy,
give an example of the type of response you seek.
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documents are horrific!
When you use this mark in a business document, you're either laughing
at your own
or telling the reader you didn't take time to find the precise
words to express your thought.
Punctuation Junctions likens the use of
this mark to a long string of "very"s (a word that loses its meaning
when used more than once). Both signal the reader: you're lazy.
Remember our former president's memos!
(Better to list the specifics in those memos.)
make sure this never happens again!!!
(Here's the ultimate
cosmic joke: what's the difference
between 1 and 3 exclamation
or question marks???
Really! Really!! Really!!!))
(Mere groveling. Replace this word with a good reason or benefit.)
serves no purpose in business
try using a bold font or different color.
yet, find the precise word or phrase that makes this mark
In Microsoft Word software, access the Thesaurus (Shift+F7).
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It's a sudden
interruptiona sharp breaka shift in thought.
overused, it loses impact
and conveys a gushy
You're bound to see
all kinds of dashes in business documents.
- This is a hyphen (the key to the right
of "0"). It's
It's used to indicate a syllable break within a word. Hyphens
appear at the end of a line.
Hyphens are also used to link 2 words that convey a new or different
"set up" is an active verb meaning to arrange in an orderly fashion
"set-up" is a noun, meaning the layout of the new
(just as "lay out" < (an action: to set something in front of you) is
not the same as "layout"< a schematic floor plan or advertising print
This is an endash, slightly
longer than a hyphen.
It's used to signal a continuing relationship, as in
To insert an endash in a Word document, place your cursor where
you wish the mark
to appear. Turn on the number lock key, hold
ALT key; input 0150 on the number pad.
The mark (–) should appear.
is an emdash, the
It's used in place of 2 hyphens to indicate a pause,
or to separate
phrases—like this—in a sentence.
To insert an emdash in a Word document, place your cursor where
you wish the mark
to appear. Turn on the number lock key, hold
ALT key; input 0151 on the number pad.
The mark (—) should appear.
A parenthesis is like
a dash, only softer (much softer).
It's a digression or amplification in the middle of another thought.
It signals that what's inside it can be eliminated without
or meaning of the sentence.
Use them sparingly. Try not to disrupt
the flow/meaning of the sentence
by placing them
between the subject and the verb.
parentheses encourage readers to stop reading.
If the information is important, either make it an introductory
or its own sentence.
If it merely supports the information,
move it to the end of the sentence
or make it a short follow-up
sentence. (See Bracket
A hyphen is NOT a dash.
tips on dashes:
you can't create en- or emdashes, use a double
Turn off the auto-hyphen feature in your Word software
Try to keep words intact and on the same line. It
Some technical writers abhor the
use of 2 hyphens
branding the writer as "lazy." Using the proper
en- and emdash
signals your reader that you know the rules
and how to apply them.
Never use a dash and comma together—-the dash is stronger.
Leave no spaces before, between, or after a dash (as above).
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Quotations say “who.”
Improper placement of quotation marks
diminishes your credibility.
Abandon logic on how these marks should be
displayed. Learn and follow these simple rules.
There are 2 sets of rules.
American placement is different from British-influenced
countries such as the U.K., Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand.
Canada tends to follow
U.S. placement rules.
TV's Jeopardy is a strange
contradiction. Though a U.S.-inspired game show,
it uses British rules when displaying quotation marks, because the
was a Brit. It's just tradition. (As told to Steve by one of the show
quotes in italics, a different color, or in a different typestyle.
Establish a set of rules for your document and apply them
No logic here. Follow the rules.
And be consistent.
Steve's tips on quotation
He could not spell the word "precedence."
Her flight arrives at gate
Avoid the dilemma. Reformat:
He could not
spell the word precedence.
Her flight arrives at
(different color or bold text)
"Happiness is the
ideal"—follow your passion.
("Happiness is the ideal"); follow your passion.
"Happiness is the ideal"; follow your passion.
"Happiness is the ideal": Follow your passion.
Place outside when the question applies only
to the quoted material.
Sid asked, "When will the project be completed?"
Place them inside
when the question applies to the whole
sentence in which the quote appears.
Did Sid ask, "When will the project be done"?
For quotes extending beyond a single paragraph,
place them at the beginning of each new paragraph,
and at the end of the final paragraph.
Same rules apply to quotes within other
"I read the article 'Beyond Excellence.'"
font double quotation marks on keyboard."
To insert quotation marks: turn on the number lock key,
place your cursor before or after the text, and type:
Alt+0147, Enter >
.....Beginning set of quotation
Alt+0148, Enter >
.... Ending set of quotation marks
Alt+0145, Enter >
....Single beginning quotation mark
Alt+0146, Enter >
....Single ending quotation mark
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An ellipsis signals that
something's missing. . .
Be leery when you see this mark.
Something is missing. Someone has altered the original
content, or stopped
before telling you how it's going to end. Sometimes, it changes the
of the message.
In business, ellipses work best when the reader knows what's missing.
But overuse may lead the reader to question the validity of the
also makes your text more difficult to read. Think of it as someone
who doesn't finish his thoughts...or mumbles.
Ellipses are formed by
placing a space before and after 3-4 periods:
YES > During the
. . . students improved.
(Note: Few follow this rule; just be
Want to avoid doubt? Avoid
this mark. Don't leave anything out.
Don't use 'em unless your reader
knows what's missing.
Steve's tips on ellipses:
Al was in the plant.
Out of nowhere, we heard a crash.
After running there . . . nothing seemed different.
The deficit ran out of
control . . . . We couldn't believe it!
Though a full
thought should include a fourth period, use 3 to indicate
a soft ending or trailing off
. . . <
. . .
if you begin a quote in the middle of a sentence, use 3 at the
credible references say to use a full line of periods when
omitting portions of quotes that are longer than a paragraph.
the use of 4 periods.
Punctuation Junction says:
Unless you’re drafting a technical report or proposal,
you’re unlikely to refer to multi-paragraph quotes.
Use 4 periods.
A full line of periods is an old rule that few know about . . .
or follow. Use 4 periods.
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He [Steve] says brackets impare [sic]*
Brackets enclose comments, criticisms, or
corrections inserted by someone
other than the original writer or speaker.
Anyone who met him [the
author] respected his authority.
I think the day was
the 3rd [4th] when you were last here.
* A bracketed sic [meaning
"thus in the original"] indicates an error
in the original quoted material ("impare is misspelled: "impair").
felt very bad." <
"I" should be capitalized.
"He was a nown [sic]
< misspelling of "known"
Brackets are a literary device for editing
From time to time you may see them in
business documents, often misused
in place of parentheses or dashes. (See
Dash for the proper use of parentheses.)
Avoid them by using a different font or
For those who wish to be creative, use
brackets for all kinds of purposes.
Just be consistent to avoid confusing your reader.
Remember, the goal of punctuation is to aid
readability and comprehension. [Got it?]
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Steve Toms | All material on the webpage is for educational purposes