1) Why study punctuation?
Improved punctuation has a number of benefits:
1) Your writing will be much clearer: it will flow better, have less ambiguities and be much easier to read.
2) Studying punctuation will make you think more deeply about how to use it. This will make you better able to analyse problems with your sentences, and make you more sensitive to the subtleties of the language (even if you do add and remove the same comma 10 times in a week!).
3) Studying punctuation will give you more ways to express yourself. Understanding how to use ellipsis, dashes, semi-colons etc., gives you the extra tools to get your thoughts down on the page, and will give your writing extra variety.
4) Along with studying sentence and paragraph structure, studying punctuation is probably the quickest way to make an improvement in your writing. An otherwise brilliant piece of writing can be completely ruined by bad punctuation, but this can be remedied fairly quickly once you understand how to punctuate clearly. To illustrate this point, take a look at this opening paragraph from Huxley’s Brave new world with the punctuation out:
‘The enormous room on the ground floor faced towards the north cold for all the summer beyond the panes for all the tropical heat of the room itself a harsh thin light glared through the windows hungrily seeking some draped lay figure some pallid shape of academic gooseflesh but finding only the glass and nickel and bleakly shining porcelain of a laboratory wintriness responded to wintriness the overalls of the workers were white their hands gloved with a pale corpse coloured rubber the light was frozen dead a ghost only from the yellow barrels of the microscopes did it borrow a certain rich and living substance lying along the polished tubes like butter streak after luscious streak in long recession down the work tables’
then back in:
‘The enormous room on the ground floor faced towards the north. Cold for all the summer beyond the panes, for all the tropical heat of the room itself, a harsh thin light glared through the windows, hungrily seeking some draped lay figure, some pallid shape of academic goose-flesh, but finding only the glass and nickel and bleakly shining porcelain of a laboratory. Wintriness responded to wintriness. The overalls of the workers were white, their hands gloved with a pale corpse-coloured rubber. The light was frozen, dead, a ghost. Only from the yellow barrels of the microscopes did it borrow a certain rich and living substance, lying along the polished tubes like butter, streak after luscious streak in long recession down the work tables.’
2) Usage of punctuation in formal writing
If you are writing in a formal setting, like for an academic journal, school essay, work publication or newspaper, then I strongly recommend checking all of the rules for that particular setting. This is because many different specific formal situations have their own set of rules on punctuation, as well as other aspects of writing.
3) Punctuation ‘rules’ in less formal types of writing
When writing in a less formal situation there is generally more leeway on punctuation rules. The most important thing is to express yourself in the most effective way possible for what it is you want to achieve. I would say that knowing the following recommendations for punctuation will be very helpful in achieving that goal.
Let’s look at end punctuation marks first.
NEXT: 2) End punctuation marks