Essay Writing Mechanics

The primary purpose of punctuation is to ensure the clarity and readability of your writing.

Achtert (New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1977), pp. But, while certain practices are optional, consistency is mandatory.

Although there are many required uses, punctuation is, to some extent, a matter of personal preference.

Common practice is to put a comma between the third and fourth digits from the right, the sixth and seventh, and so on. Perhaps, after my death, it may be better known; at present it would not be proper, no, not tho’ a general pardon should be issued, even without exceptions of persons or crimes. some of my worst comrades, who are out of the way of doing me harm, having gone out of the world by the steps and the string as I often expected to go, knew me by the name of Moll Flanders. For [an] ellipsis a sentence, [leave] a space before and after ….

1,000 20,000 7,654,321 Exceptions to this practice include page and line numbers of four or more digits, addresses, and year numbers. A quotation that can stand as a complete sentence should end with a period even if something in the original has been omitted.

In words of more than one syllable ending in a sibilant, only the apostrophe is added (Hopkins’ poems, Cervantes’ (Camus’s novels). Colons are used to indicate that what follows will be an example, explanation, or elaboration of what has just been said. If the context requires a comma (as it does here), the comma follows a closing parenthesis, but a comma never precedes an opening parenthesis. Carter’s sweep of the South—Virginia was the only Southern state to vote Republican—helped give him the election.

They are commonly used to introduce quotations (see §§ 14b, 14c, and 14f). Commas are usually required between items in a series (blood, sweat, and tears), between coordinate adjectives (an absorbing, frightening account), before coordinating conjunctions joining independent clauses, around parenthetical elements, and after fairly long phrases or clauses preceding the main clause of a sentence. See §§ 31, 33, 35, and 41 for the usage of the comma in documentation and bibliography; see §14f for commas with quotation marks. Many twentieth-century American writers—Faulkner, Capote, Styron, Williams, to name only a few—come from the South. Exclamation marks should be used sparingly in scholarly writing. Hyphens are used to form some types of compound words, particularly compound adjectives that precede the word(s) they modify (a mind-boggling experience, a well-established policy, a first-rate study). In quoting, reproduce all accents exactly as they appear in the original.

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Writers must guard against adopting different styles in parallel situations.

More comprehensive discussions of punctuation can be found in standard handbooks of composition …. Apostrophes indicate contractions (rarely acceptable in scholarly writing) and possessives. Some writers tend to overuse [em] dashes, substituting them loosely for other marks of punctuation.

General practice is to form the possessive of monosyllabic proper names ending in a sibilant sound (s, z, sh, zh, ch, j) by adding an apostrophe and another (Keats’s poems, Marx’s theories) except, by convention, for names in classical literature (Mars’ wrath). A comma and a dash are never used together in modern English usage. The [em] dash, however, has only a few legitimate uses: around parenthetical elements that require a number of internal commas, and before a summarizing appositive.


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