Punctuation – getting it right

Punctuation is governed two-thirds by rule and one-third by personal taste and, when used correctly, it offers a simple balance of clarity and correctness, while emphasizing personal style. Punctuation has frustrated and annoyed most famous writers. Apostrophes, as in don’t, isn’t, it’s, can’t…etc, have been called many things, including ‘uncouth bacilli’, otherwise known as ‘coarse bacteria’.

When we speak we pause or change our intonation or loudness. This helps express our meaning, emphasis and tone. We also use facial expressions: eye rolls, hand gestures as well as many other signals. But when we write we can not do those things. We need an entirely different set of tools and that’s where punctuation comes in – to clarify the message and establish the rhythm.

Punctuation is the best tool available to convey uncertainty, excitement, anticipation, urgency, skepticism, drama and even comic timing. It also can serve as the vocal director. A question mark might suggest the inflection of a speaker’s voice. Parentheses serve as the equivalent of an aside. And an exclamation point can signify surprise or a rising tone of voice.

Spoken words can easily be conveyed appropriately in written words by reading your work aloud and it will suddenly become clear where the comma belongs or whether the sentence needs a question mark or an exclamation.

It is your message.

Make sure it is well understood.