What You Need to Know about Punctuation

By Staff Writer Published on June 25, 2017

Every college student should know the basics of punctuation. Unfortunately, for some of us, this basic knowledge never occurred in our schooling or it was so long ago that we don’t remember it. I didn’t really “get” grammar until I was in my master’s degree program, so don’t feel bad if you fall into this category. In this blog post, I will share with you some rules for the most commonly misused punctuation marks.

Commas and Comma Splices

First, let’s start with the comma. Commas are often misused or overused. Commas are great for separating items in a list or adding clauses to a sentence, but you need to use them properly. Have you ever been told you had a comma splice in your writing? I heard that term several times before I actually knew what one was. Let me give you an example:

Sally ran to the store, she bought some milk.

In this example, we have a comma splice. The comma is used to separate two complete sentences, which makes this a comma splice. An easy way to fix this error is to add a conjunction like “and.”

Sally ran to the store, and she bought some milk.

You can use a period or a semicolon to separate the two sentences as well.

Speaking of semicolons…

; Semicolons

In my students’ writing I see the misuse of semicolons all the time. The semicolon is a specialized punctuation mark, and when used correctly can add depth to your writing. Let’s look at some of the ways semicolons should be used.

In the last ten years I have lived in Dallas, Texas; Eugene, Oregon; and Seattle, Washington.

Separating a list that includes commas

Sally ran to the store; she bought milk.

Separating complete sentences

Semicolons are nice for varying your sentence length or showing that two sentences are closely related. If you find your writing contains a lot of short sentences, try using semicolons to vary the sentence length.

: Colons

The colons is a highly effective punctuation mark, but must be used correctly. I like to think of colons as the punctuation mark that defines. When we look a word up in the dictionary, the word is followed by a colon. The colon shows that you are defining something. You can also use a colon after a complete sentence to introduce a list. Let’s look at two examples:

My husband bought me my favorite flower for my birthday: an orchid.

In this example the information after the colon is defining the favorite flower.

The following is a list of punctuation marks:

  • Colon

  • Semicolon

  • Period

  • Comma

Now that you know a little more about using punctuation marks, I hope you will try out these tips to add variety to your writing!

About the Author

Jennifer Lowry is Senior Associate Dean of General Education at Independence University. Jennifer earned her master’s degree in English, Rhetoric and Composition at Boise State University and loves working with budding writers. She also enjoys helping students meet their academic and professional goals.