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Sound Writing

Subsection 7.4.1 Punctuation

Subsubsection Period ⟦.⟧

One period:
  • Use periods at the end of complete sentences. ← Like that!
  • Periods can also go in between and after the letters of certain abbreviations. For example, e.g., M.D., etc.

Subsubsection Ellipsis ⟦. . .⟧ (AKA: “dot dot dot”)

Use an ellipsis to show that you have omitted part of a quotation.

Example 7.4.1. Ellipsis: Restaurant Review.

The New York Times reporter wrote, “The restaurant, while it appeared to be a tiny hole-in-the-wall, showcased . . . an impressive range of traditional Peruvian cuisine.”
Use four periods when you omit a quote that contains the end of a sentence. The fourth period indicates to the reader that the sentence has ended and that the next portion of the quoted material comes from a different sentence.

Example 7.4.2. Ellipsis: Sunbutter.

Original quote—“I love that the dining hall has sunbutter and bananas. It’s great because I’m allergic to peanuts.”
Quoted portion—“I love that the dining hall has sunbutter . . . . It’s great because I’m allergic to peanuts.”

Subsubsection Exclamation ⟦!⟧ and Question ⟦?⟧ Marks

Example 7.4.3. Exclamation and Question Marks: Recursive Enthusiasm.

“Use an exclamation mark when you want to show excitement! (Like this!)”

Example 7.4.4. Exclamation and Question Marks: Recursive Interrogation.

“Do you use a question mark when you ask a question? (Answer: Yes, you do.)”

Subsubsection Comma ⟦,⟧

List 7.4.5. The five main uses of a comma
There are five main ways to use a comma. You can use them:
  1. to connect two complete sentences with the coordinating conjunctions that make up the acronym FANBOYS (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so).
    “I love using commas, but I need to remember the five main ways to use them!”
  2. to separate an introductory or explanatory phrase from the rest of the sentence.
    “Having finished her last final, Shelly skipped with joy across the quad.”
    “The dog, who had gotten in the habit of walking every day at 3 p.m., grabbed his leash and ran to his owner.”
  3. with transitional phrases (however, moreover, therefore, and for example).
    “For example, you can use a comma in a sentence like this.”
  4. to separate items in a list or series.
    “My favorite foods from the dining hall include hummus, Greek yogurt, and apples.”
  5. with coordinate adjectives (i.e., adjectives that you could combine with “and”).
    “My RA is the nicest, funniest person on campus.”

Comma Splices.

These occur when a writer joins two independent clauses with a comma (see Subsection 7.1.2). Recall that an independent clause is a sentence with a subject, verb, and complete idea. “Comma splices are weird, they look like this.” Comma splices make sentences less precise, can you see how this comma splice makes my sentence quite confused? What can you do instead? You have several options!
List 7.4.7. Strategies for Resolving Comma Splices
  • Keep the sentences as they are and replace the comma with a semicolon.
    This option works for sentences that are too closely related for a period but for which a coordinating conjunction would be inappropriate. (For example, “I like cats; they are cute.”)
  • Split the clauses into two sentences.
    For example, “Comma splices make sentences less precise. Can you see how the absence of a comma splice improves my sentence(s)?”
  • Put a coordinating conjunction (see Subsection 7.1.1) after the comma and before the second clause.
    For example, “I love using commas, but I know that they don’t belong between two independent clauses without a conjunction.”
  • Alter the clauses so that one is no longer an independent clause.
    For example, “Comma splices aren’t great, which is why I don’t use them.”
  • Combine the idea into one sentence/independent clause.
    For example, “I don’t use comma splices.”
This graphic is titled "Commas aren’t for splicing" with a picture of a cat. It begins with the sentence "I like cats, they are cute," labeled "Example: SPLICE." The next line bears the text, "Fix 1, semicolon: I like cats; they are cute." The next line says, "Fix 2, period: I like cats. They are cute." The third line says, "Fix 3, coordinating conjunction: I like cats, and they are cute." Next is, "Fix 4, subordinating conduction: I like cats because they are cute." The final line reads, "Fix 5, combine into one sentence: I like cute cats."

Subsubsection Semicolon ⟦;⟧

There are two main reasons to use a semicolon:
  1. You can use them to separate items in a list when there are also commas.
    “For dinner, I want to have a sandwich with hummus, cheese, and pickles; some chocolate milk; and some froyo.”
  2. You can also use them to separate two independent clauses and to show your reader that those independent clauses are closely related.
    “I like to eat sandwiches; they are yummy.”

Note 7.4.8.

Don’t capitalize the word following the semicolon unless it’s a proper noun.

Subsubsection Colon ⟦:⟧

Only use a colon after a complete sentence. Colons tell a reader that what follows is directly related to the sentence that preceded the colon. The following information could be a list of items or another clause.

Example 7.4.9. Colon: Weird Snack.

“Please grab me a couple of things from the store: a container of ice cream, a carton of eggs, and some guacamole.”

Example 7.4.10. Colon: Tiny Pants.

“I learned about the coolest thing in class today: a long time ago, a scientist conducted an experiment where he put tiny pants on frogs 1 .”

Note 7.4.11.

You don’t usually need to capitalize the word following a colon (unless it’s a proper noun), but some style guides recommend it, so if you have questions, as always, ask your professor.

Subsubsection Hyphens and Dashes ⟦-⟧, ⟦–⟧, and ⟦—⟧

A hyphen is used within a word, such as “non-aligned”, or used when a word is split across two lines (“hyphenation”). It is a key on your keyboard. It is not a minus sign, but is frequently used as one.
An en dash is wider, traditionally the width of an uppercase N (thus the name). It is used for ranges, such as “Sound Writing is copyright 2017–2019.”
An em dash is wider still, twice the width of an en dash, and traditionally the width of an uppercase M (thus the name). These longer dashes are what you use to set things apart—you can use them with fragments or complete sentences. Like the earlier example—the one up above—you can use two em dashes to set something apart, or you can use one em dash like the previous two sentences. Many word-processors will create an em dash if you type two consecutive hyphens.
None of these punctuation marks have spaces before or after them.

Subsubsection Parentheses ⟦(these)⟧

Aside from citations (see Chapter 8), parentheses are used in writing to separate words, phrases, or sentences from the main text. When you want to add additional information that doesn’t fit well within the main part of a sentence, you can use parentheses to inform your reader while simultaneously keeping your sentence flowing (like this). (Or you can just use parentheses on their own to indicate that something is an aside or afterthought.) For more details on how to use other types of punctuation with parentheses (e.g., where does the period go?!), see Item 2!
You can also use parentheses in area codes, like tutoring center phone number (which is, coincidentally, the phone number to the tutoring center).

Subsubsection Brackets ⟦[these]⟧

Brackets are kind of weird and don’t seem to come up much, but, in general, you can associate them with quoted or parenthetical material. You should use brackets when you:
  • include a quote that requires clarification to make sense.
    “She said that they [her roommates] are the best.”
  • include a quote that doesn’t fit well within the syntax of your sentence (e.g., your quote starts with a lowercase letter, but you put it at the beginning of a sentence).
    “[T]hey are the best,” Shelly said about her roommates.
    Shelly loved her roommates last year; she said “they [were] the best.” (Here, we’ve changed the present tense “are” to the past tense “were” in order to match the tense of the sentence.)
  • want to tell your reader that you have or haven’t added something (e.g., italics or a grammatical mistake) to a quote.
    “Rainier looked so beautiful today” [emphasis in original].
    The baby said, “the doggie ated [sic] my sandwich.”
  • include a short phrase in another language.
    Je t’aime [I love you],” she said to her cat.
  • want to put parentheses inside parentheses.
    (I like to use parentheses [but not all the time].)

Subsubsection Quotation Marks

When you quote something, you are exactly replicating the words, phrases, and sentences of another source. Therefore, whenever you are quoting something directly, it’s always a good idea to make sure you copy the quotation exactly as it appears in the source. Otherwise, you’re inadvertently changing what the quote is saying! But sometimes when you write longer and more complicated quotes, you may forget to insert commas or emphases, type a wrong word, or end the quote incorrectly. Besides simply trying to copy the quote exactly, there are a few other guidelines to keep in mind while incorporating quotes into your writing.
A large white ampersand is on a circular maroon background, flanked by the smaller yellow text "It’s for everyone."
List 7.4.12. Strategies for Quoting Complete Sentences
  • Enclose the quote within two sets of quotation marks.
    All quotes require two sets of quotation marks, one set signifying the beginning of the quote and the other signifying the end. Therefore, whenever you use one set of quotations, be sure you follow them up with a second set at the end of the quote. See Using Quotation Marks for an example.
  • Preface the quote with a comma after the preceding word.
    In order to introduce your quote to the reader, place a comma after the dialogue tag or introductory phrase that comes before your quote. See Prefacing Quotes with a Comma for an example.
  • Capitalize the quoted sentence.
    If you are quoting a complete sentence, capitalize the first letter of the quoted sentence. See Capitalizing a Quoted Sentence for an example.
  • End each quoted sentence within the quotation marks.
    If you are ending your sentence with a quoted sentence, end the quote with a period, exclamation point, or ellipsis before the final set of quotation marks. See Integrating Quotes for an example.
  • Integrate your quotes into the grammar of your sentence.
    If you are breaking your quoted sentence into two parts, end the first part with a comma and do not capitalize the second part. See Using an Ellipses to Replace Source Material for an example.
  • Use an ellipsis to replace omitted source material.
    Sometimes the information you want to quote will be near the beginning or end of a long sentence or passage, but the material in between may not be applicable or useful to you. If this is the case, you can use an ellipsis (. . .) to replace the material you are omitting. However, it’s important that the material you are replacing does not change the meaning or intent of the source material.
    Because any quote comes from a larger context, an ellipsis is only needed at the beginning or end of a quote if it would appear otherwise that the entire sentence was quoted. See Using Ellipses to Quote Honestly for an example.
  • Use brackets to indicate non-standard elements or changes.
    Sometimes direct quotes have spelling or grammatical deviations from Standard American English. In order to preserve the original voice, it’s important to include these deviations when possible and acknowledge them with an indicator ([sic], Latin for “thus”) after the perceived deviation. Similarly, if a part of your source material is underlined or italicized or in some other way emphasized, you should generally include this in your quotation. Emphases are indicated differently based on the citation style you are using (see Chapter 8), but a basic guideline is to indicate emphases with “[emphasis in original]” at the end of or immediately following the quoted sentence. See Using Brackets to Indicate Changes for an example.
  • Use brackets to enclose important nouns missing in quote.
    Sometimes sentences omit a previously referred-to noun, person, or object to avoid unnecessary repetition, instead replacing the item with “it” or “they.” In order to specify the identity of the item, you can use brackets to identify it in place of or immediately after the pronoun. See Using Brackets to Insert Nouns for an example.

Example 7.4.13. Using Quotation Marks.

According to the first-year writing student, “The tutoring center is a great place to share your ideas, receive feedback on drafts, and improve your editing skills.”
In the first-year writing student’s reaction to going to the tutoring center, the phrase “share your ideas” evokes a sense of collaboration and engagement with the writing process.

Example 7.4.14. Prefacing Quotes with a Comma.

Riley said in response to the student, “Wow, I guess I had better make an appointment at the tutoring center, then!”

Example 7.4.15. Capitalizing a Quoted Sentence.

The tutor said, “At the tutoring center we want to provide opportunities for all students to acheive their academic goals.”
Kaden exclaimed, “My paper is due next week and I haven’t even started thinking about it! Maybe I should make a writing appointment. . .”

Example 7.4.16. Integrating Quotes.

“I’m kind of scared to make a writing appointment,” the first-year student acknowledged, “but I think I will anyway.”
“While sharing your writing with another person can feel intimidating,” the professor reassured, “the Writing Tutors at the tutoring center are very nice and accommodating.”

Example 7.4.17. Using an Ellipses to Replace Source Material.

According to the director of the tutoring center, “The center offers a safe space for collaborative engagement with the writing process, creative and intellectual exploration, . . . and interdisciplinary interaction between peers, faculty, and staff.”

Example 7.4.18. Using Ellipses to Quote Honestly.

If the original sentence were, “I have never seen our ultimate frisbee team play a game, but I really enjoy watching ultimate games because the players have so many cool Frisbee throws!” then you would need an ellipsis if you cut the introductory or concluding clause: “. . . I really enjoy watching ultimate games . . . .”

Example 7.4.19. Using Brackets to Indicate Changes.

The subject tutor asked the class, “Y’all [sic] going to the review session tonight in the library?”
The class responded, “Of course we’re going to the review session [emphasis in original].”

Example 7.4.20. Using Brackets to Insert Nouns.

The Writing Tutor emphasized, “[The tutoring center] is a great place to work collaboratively on essay ideas or subject material as well as independently on homework.”
“Additionally, if you need a coffee or tea break, it [the tutoring center] is located conveniently close to the coffee shop,” continued the Writing Tutor.
List 7.4.21. Strategies for Quoting Sentence Fragments
  • Quoted fragments should not be capitalized.
    If you are quoting only a piece or fragment of the source material, the fragment does not need to be capitalized. See Not Capitalizing Sentence Fragments.
  • Incorporate quoted fragments into the syntax of your sentence.
    For instance, if you are listing quoted words or phrases, be sure they adhere to parallel sentence structure (see Subsection 7.2.3) and separate them with commas inside of the quotation marks. Finally, make sure the resulting sentence is grammatically correct and complete. See Incorporating Quotes into Syntax of Sentence.
  • Use block quotes for large quoted sections.
    If you are quoting long sections of a text, introduce the passage with a colon or comma, indent the passage, and omit quotation marks.
    When quoting more than four lines of prose or more than three lines of poetry, introduce the quote with an introductory sentence ending with a comma or colon. Begin the quotation on a new line and indent the entire passage one inch from the left margin. Try to keep spacing and line breaks as close to the original formatting as possible. See Using Block Quotes for Large Excerpts.

Example 7.4.22. Not Capitalizing Sentence Fragments.

Although Jordan knew the due date for the lab report was impending, they remarked that they felt a “sudden spasm of panic” when they realized the report was due tomorrow.
Anxious about their upcoming organic chemistry exam, the student noted that their appointment with the chemistry subject tutor made them feel “calm and collected.”

Example 7.4.23. Incorporating Quotes into Syntax of Sentence.

After their meeting with the assistant director of the tutoring center, the student remarked that they felt more “calm,” “confident,” and “empowered” and left feeling “motivated to become more organized.”

Example 7.4.24. Using Block Quotes for Large Excerpts.

According to its website, the Washington Trails Association believes that:
  • That exploring nature is good for people’s hearts, minds and bodies, and that hiking is a powerful way for everyone to connect with Washington’s natural wonders.
  • That people will protect the places they love to hike, from local parks to remote wilderness.
  • It is vitally important for everyone to have the opportunity to access the outdoors, and we are committed to reducing barriers to hiking trails and lands.

Subsubsection Apostrophes

Apostrophes, or single quotation marks, most often mark possession. However, due to the inconsistent nature of English morphology, the task of marking possession is rather complicated.
This diagram illustrates use of plurals and apostrophes. In the upper left is the text "1 woman = 1 woman." An arrow points to the "a" in the right-hand "woman." In the lower left is the text "1 woman" with a plus sign and a graphic of a turtle. On the other side of an equals sign is the text "Woman’s turtle," with a small arrow pointing to the "a" in "woman." On the upper right is the text "1 woman + 1 woman = 2 women," with an arrow pointing to the "e" in "women." In the lower left is the text "1 woman + 1 woman +" a picture of a turtle. On the other side of an equals sign is the text "women’s turtle," with an arrow pointing to "e" in "women’s."
List 7.4.25. Ways you can Indicate Possession with an Apostrophe
You can use an apostrophe to indicate possession for . . .
A singular noun or proper noun
[noun] + [’] + [s]
[Cat] + [’] + [s] = Cat’s
[Matt] + [’] + [s] = Matt’s
A singular noun or proper noun ending in “s”
[noun] + [’] (+ [s])
That’s right. The final “s” is optional. There is no standard. Ask your professor for their preference and remain consistent in your usage.
[Bus] + [’] (+ [s]) = Bus’ or Bus’s
[Jess] + [’] (+ [s]) = Jess’ or Jess’s
A plural noun ending in “s” or “es”
[noun] + [’]
[Princesses] + [’] = Princesses’
A plural noun not ending in “s”
[noun] + [’] + [s]
[Children] + [’] + [s] = Children’s
A plural proper noun ending in “s”
[noun] + [’]
[Joneses] + [’] = Joneses’
A singular compound noun
[compound noun] + [’] + [s]
[Father-in-law] + [’] + [s] = Father-in-law’s
A plural compound noun
[compound noun] + [’] + [s]
[Fathers-in-law] + [’] + [s] = Fathers-in-law’s
Joint possession
[Noun and noun] + [’] + [s]
[Gina and Tommy] + [’] + [s] = Gina and Tommy’s
Joint possession including a personal pronoun
[Noun] + [’] + [s] and [possessive pronoun]
[Gina] + [’] + [s] and [my] = Gina’s and my
Individual possession
[Noun] + [’] + [s] and [noun] + [’] + [s]
[Gina] + [’] + [s] and [Tommy] + [’] + [s] = Gina’s and Tommy’s
On the left is a tree with a single giraffe in front of it. The tree is labeled "Giraffe’s tree." On the right is a tree with two giraffes in front of it. This tree is labeled, "Giraffes’ tree."
Apostrophes are also used to mark contractions, or two words combined, such as “could” and “have,” which can be contracted, or shortened, to “could’ve.” A single apostrophe takes the place of omitted letters.

Example 7.4.26. Shortening Words with Apostrophes.

  • “Cannot” becomes “Can’t”
  • “We would” becomes “We’d”
  • “It is” becomes “It’s”
  • “Will not” becomes “Won’t”
“Won’t” is an interesting case because its spelling does not correspond to its implied contraction “will not.” Linguists suspect that this is because, over time, the pronunciation of the contraction shifted such that “will” became “woll,” resulting in the current form “won’t.” It should be noted that the above contractions constitute their own words without an apostrophe (cant, wed, its, and wont are all words). In order to avoid confusion, it is important to include the apostrophe in contractions.
Apostrophes can also come at the front of a word, such as “’Twas” to mark omitted letters (omitted from “’Twas” is the letter “I”: “It was”).
Apostrophes can also be used in conjunction with single letters (such as grades), abbreviations, and numerals (including years). There are no standard rules for these usages. Ask your professor for their preference and be consistent. Aim for clarity where necessary. For instance, the plural form “As” (referring to the letter grade) will likely be misread as “As” the word. Use an apostrophe here (“A’s”).

Example 7.4.27. Clarifying Pluralization with Apostrophes.

Generally accepted usages:
  • “Ph.D.s” becomes “Ph.D.’s”
  • “2010s” becomes “2010’s”
  • “’10s” becomes “10’s”

Note 7.4.28.

Beware the personal pronouns “hers,” “yours,” “ours,” “its,” “theirs,” and “whose,” which do not use an apostrophe.