Power = Punctuation
Punctuation can give you power or authority to your writing piece whether it be personal, professional, or scholarly. Elements of style is different from formal writing, it really is about adding flair to your writing style and piece. The best way to achieve this is thinking about grammar strategically, using punctuation in a minimalist way. Grammar are ways we put words (diction, syntax) together in sentences and these form meanings, like arranging the alphabet to convey our message. Punctuation refers to all the symbols (like period, comma, semi-colon) to enhance sentences and add more clarity. Remember that little marks carry immense power. When we are not littering with punctuation, we are making the piece much cleaner to read and understand. This makes grammar efficient, and your overall piece better. It looks written by a professional, regardless if you are one or not.
The best way to observe this is seeing how popular writers in the genre you like to read write and use grammar. For instance, Stephen King has tweeted and done several interviews about his use of grammar and punctuation. To him, it doesn’t need to be perfect when you write. But instead, focus on simple sentences like Hemmingway or Joan Didion. Read, read, and read some more of your favorite authors.
• Are they missing punctuation where you would put it?
• Do they put punctuation where you wouldn’t?
• How do they separate their ideas within a single sentence?
• Do they separate the same idea by two sentences?
We can learn a lot by seeing what others are doing.
• Use less: minimize the use of punctuation
- This will have more impact when you do use them
• Always ask if it adds value to the piece
- Does it add understanding, clarity?
- Does it add drama or flair?
- If in doubt either ask a friend or read aloud
The mighty mark of a comma
• Use when you want to establish an understanding;
• Or to establish a particular meaning
- Ex. Do you want to eat, my comrade?
- Ex. Do you want to eat my comrade?
- A comma can ensure the meaning and there is not misunderstanding…it can also save a comrades life.
• It can also separate ideas within a sentence so there are no run-ons
• Adds a touch of grace and refinement in many ways to sentence
- Can add rhythm
- Can add a beat
- Can push into a new idea
- Adds comprehension/understanding
- Extend a thought into another, to follow on an idea, or refers back to the thing before the comma
- Commas can two things together
- Or to insert a point to get across to the reader
The little mark of colons :
• It can introduce a list of items
• Can be used to answer a thought or question that came before the colon
- Ex. Complete idea/question: answering or explaining
• Can create anticipation
• Makes a longer pause
• Crates more of a dramatic effect
• Can indicate something is coming
- Ex. Ellie knew it was the time to act: she put on her winter coat and braced the winter storm outside.
• It also creates a visual effect to add more drama as well
• Use them sparingly and wisely to keep the drama within a piece
The mark of a semi-colon ;
• This is for more complex ideas and/or ways to separate more complex set of ideas or items in a list
• Does it add to the rhythm of writing? It can change the pace in a sentence, they are longer pauses then a simple colon.
• It should complete a thought that came before, and link an answer afterwards—to link the idea together
- Ex. Dashes have more of a visual impact than a colon; they throw you forward harder to the next part of the sentence.
- Think about what kind of pause and kind of effect you want for the reader when thinking about using colons and dashes in your piece.
The little exclamation marks !
• These can be tacky in professional writing like in a news article
• Helps with shouting at words
• Can indicate a strength or passion with the idea
• Can also emphasize an important point/idea or emergency
The mark of "quotes"
• It can give a precise “word” a special meaning when pointed out in quotes, especially when sarcasm is present
- Ex. Haven’s “wit” was engaging.
• Only include quotes to a single word if it is adding value to the piece
• It can be a direct quote someone said
• It can help with cynicism—kind of like rolling your eyes through your writing
• Can be used to separate a speech within a speech, singular quotes used within double quotes
- Ex. “I really don’t like when Jay says, ‘I don’t care about politics.’”
The mark of an apostrophe'
• Is used when shortening two words by putting them together
- Ex. It is = It’s
• It can denote a belonging or possession of something
- Ex. Ellie’s house
• Used when want to sound less formal, to get closer to a reader or audience
• In a professional context or writing piece, try to use them less
The little mark brackets ()
• Try to eliminate these if possible
• They are usually used to include things that aren’t necessary, basically filling in context to add to the writing that could be left unsaid
• Brackets can bury points and create confusion
• They can disrupt flow and pace of piece
• Use these wisely
The mighty mark of dashes --
• Can be an alternative to brackets—used to showcase a thought or idea
• Different kinds of dashes
- En dash (-) the length of an “n”
- Em dash (--) the length of an “m”
- They can change the pause and pace depending on the one used
- A hyphen (-) brings two words together
- Ex. She was a long-time member of the book club.
• Emphasize the significance of something
• Dashes prevent getting lost in other grammar
The mark of hyphens -
• Two or more words, to modify them and/or the meaning behind the word or item/idea
- Ex. three-bedroom house
- Ex. top-of-the-line dishwasher and stove bundle
• Can help prevent confusion
- Ex. Zelda tried to peer through the stained-glass to get a better look.
- Without the dash, it might create ambiguity
• Only use it when necessary
• Can quicken the pace or comprehension of an idea or piece
- Ex. The off-white dress didn’t suit her.
• The quicker a reader can understand what you are writing—the better. A reader doesn’t want to reread a sentence or stumble over sentences.
Punctuation can make your work more understandable, clearer, more readable, and overall make you a better writer by using it wisely.
Thanks for reading and let me know the comments if you have any questions.