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Writing: Punctuation



Punctuation plays a significant part in making your writing clear. It is easy to be accidentally ambiguous in your writing because you know what you mean to say but don't see how it will read to your reader. As it is vital to have clear communication to convey meaning in academic writing, it is worth paying attention to your punctuation.


Should be: Becky walked on, her head a little higher than usual.


Work through the activities to check you know how to use commas, brackets, semicolons, colons, and apostrophes.



Dashes and brackets

Pairs of dashes and pairs of brackets (parentheses) function in the same way as pairs of commas to set off such non-essential elements as examples, explanations, and brief digressions from the main message of a sentence. The subtle effect of choosing one over the other is as follows:

  • The use of parenthesis gives the impression that it is additional, non-essential information
  • The use of dashes gives the impression that it is additional, important information
  • The use of commas gives the impression that it is neutral: additional information, neither non-essential nor important.

The semicolon

Semicolons are used to join simple sentences (independent main clauses) which are related e.g., The peace negotiations ended without agreement; there seemed no end to the war.

It can be used stylistically: for example, to accentuate the symmetry of two clauses e.g., He loved coffee; she loved tea.

The semicolon is also used to separate items in a list where some of the items need internal commas.

The Colon