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Writing Center

Punctuating Correctly

So what?

Punctuation can seem tricky and tedious, but it is so important! Punctuation helps writers connect and separate ideas to form easily readable sentences and paragraphs. Incorrect or confusing punctuation can be a distraction for readers, which takes away from the important ideas a writer is trying to communicate. Furthermore, incorrect punctuation can make one's writing seem unprofessional or unpolished, which reduces a writer's credibility.

Summary Explanation

  • Do not use a comma to join two complete ideas; instead, a semicolon or a period must be used.
  • Use a comma after most introductory words, phrases, and clauses.
  • Use a comma to join two complete ideas with a connecting word such as and/but/or.

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Detailed Explanation

Comma Splices

A comma splice occurs when a comma gets incorrectly wedged between two complete ideas in an attempt to join them. However, a comma cannot be used to connect two complete ideas. Instead, a semicolon or period must be used. A semicolon is used to emphasize the relationship between two complete ideas, and a period is used to emphasize each individual idea.

Incorrect

Correct

Using correct punctuation is easy, you just need to avoid the common errors.

Using correct punctuation is easy; you just need to avoid the common errors.

Or

Using correct punctuation is easy. You just need to avoid common errors.

Punctuation can make or break your writing, make sure to use it well.

Punctuation can make or break your writing; make sure to use it well.

Or

Punctuation can make or break your writing. Make sure to use it well.

Writing well involves using effective punctuation, it is an important element of all texts.

Writing well involves using effective punctuation; it is an important element of all texts.

Or

Writing well involves using effective punctuation. It is an important element of all texts.

Run-on/Fused Sentences

A run-on or fused sentence occurs when NO punctuation is used to connect two complete ideas. As explained above, a semicolon or period must be used. Again, a semicolon is used to emphasize the relationship between two complete ideas, and a period is used to emphasize each individual idea.

Incorrect

Correct

Punctuation is an integral part of good writing the two cannot be separated.

Punctuation is an integral part of good writing; the two cannot be separated.

Or

Punctuation is an integral part of good writing. The two cannot be separated.

The readability of a text largely depends on effective punctuation writers must remember this.

The readability of a text largely depends on effective punctuation; writers must remember this.

Or

The readability of a text largely depends on effective punctuation. Writers must remember this.

Writers should care about the effectiveness of every aspect of a text punctuation is no exception.

Writers should care about the effectiveness of every aspect of a text; punctuation is no exception.

Or

Writers should care about the effectiveness of every aspect of a text. Punctuation is no exception.

Missing Commas (Introductory Information)

This error occurs when commas are missing after introductory information (words, phrases, clauses) in a sentence. Introductory information may be one or two words (however, similarly, in fact, etc.) or much longer. Longer introductory information might begin with words such as: when, although, because, before, if, whether, despite, depending on, considering, etc.

Incorrect

Correct

Depending on the sentence punctuation usage can become quite complex

Depending on the sentence, punctuation usage can become quite complex.

However most sentences are easy to punctuate.

However, most sentences are easy to punctuate.

Although punctuation can seem intimidating it becomes easier with practice.

Although punctuation can seem intimidating, it becomes easier with practice. 

Missing Commas (Connecting Words)

This error occurs when commas are missing before connecting words that join two complete ideas in a sentence. Connecting words are: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so (remember F.A.N.B.O.Y.S.).

Incorrect

Correct

Proper punctuation is the foundation for good writing so it must be taken seriously.

Proper punctuation is the foundation for good writing, so it must be taken seriously.

They say practice makes perfect and this is true for learning to punctuate correctly. 

They say practice makes perfect, and this is true for learning to punctuate correctly. 

A text may be profound and compelling but poor punctuation can easily sidetrack a reader.

A text may be profound and compelling, but poor punctuation can easily sidetrack a reader.

Note that a comma is NOT needed when a connecting word does NOT join two complete ideas—for example:

Incorrect

Correct

Proper punctuation is the foundation for good writing, and must be taken seriously.

Proper punctuation is the foundation for good writing and must be taken seriously.

(“Must be taken seriously” does not include a subject and is, therefore, an incomplete idea. Therefore, no comma is needed before "and.")

An effective writer must know how to edit for punctuation, or find someone who can.

An effective writer must know how to edit for punctuation or find someone who can.

(“Or find someone who can” does not include a subject or a clear main verb and is, therefore, an incomplete idea. Therefore, no comma is needed before "or.")