Importance of Punctuation Marks in Academic Writing

One of the main things that any editor or proofreader looks out for while editing a piece of text is punctuation marks. The reason is simple — they can alter the meaning of your text if you do not use them correctly. It becomes even more prominent when you are writing an academic paper. In academic writing, an author may be easily misunderstood when ambiguous sentences are used. Punctuation marks mainly serve the purpose to disambiguate sentences. While literary or other types of writing will have a certain degree of freedom for using punctuation marks, academic work needs to be precise and correct. This article will cover the importance of punctuation marks in academic writing.

19.10.2021

Importance of Punctuation Marks in Academic Writing

This article discusses the importance of punctuation marks in academic writing. To give you an opportunity to practice proofreading, we have left a few spelling, punctuation, or grammatical errors in the text. See if you can spot them! If you spot the errors correctly, you will be entitled to a 10% discount.

One of the main things that any editor or proofreader looks out for while editing a piece of text is punctuation marks. The reason is simple — they can alter the meaning of your text if you do not use them correctly.

Imagine texting your colleague ‘‘Let’s eat Carla’’ or ‘‘Let’s eat kids’’ without a comma after ‘‘eat.’’ Here, you are implying that you eat Carla or kids, not eat with Carla or with the kids. The correct sentence here is ‘‘Let’s eat, Carla’’ and ‘‘Let’s eat, kids.’’ Thus, it is extremely important to look out for the correct use of punctuation marks.

It becomes even more prominent when you are writing an academic paper. While literary or other types of writing will have a certain degree of freedom for using punctuation marks, academic work needs to be precise and correct. In academic writing, an author may be easily misunderstood when ambiguous sentences are used.  Punctuation marks mainly serve the purpose to disambiguate sentences. With that thought in mind, in this article, we will cover the importance of punctuation marks in academic writing.

punctuation marks

Why punctuation marks are important?

We shall start by understanding why the correct use of punctuation marks is important. Below are the reasons why using the correct punctuation mark in the right place is so crucial. It is especially so in the case of academic writing:

  • Right punctuation allows your readers the perceive the right message of your text.

  • In academic writing, punctuation marks can help strengthen your arguments and reasoning in the text form.

  • Missing punctuation marks or misused ones can completely alter the meaning of a sentence.

  • It helps emphasize pauses, thoughts, ideas, and even the tone and emotion of the text.

Different types of punctuation marks

Now that we have understood the reason why punctuation is so important, we shall now move on to discuss the different types of marks out there. We will also provide you with relevant examples so that you understand the differences.

If you are ready, let us start!

Periods (.)

A period is one of the most commonly used punctuation marks and is popularly known as a full stop. As its name suggests, it is mostly used at the end of a sentence to denote that it has ended. It is placed after a declarative sentence and a statement. It is also used after abbreviations.

For example:

End of a sentence

I worked from morning to evening.

After abbreviations

He is Dr. Jonathan of the ER dept.

Commas (,)

The next most commonly known and used among the punctuation marks is the comma. The comma denotes a small pause or gap anywhere in the middle of a sentence to provide more clarity. A comma can be used for various instances, like grouping items, separating phrases, and so on. However, misusing commas or overusing them can be a huge issue.

For example:

  • Incorrect: We will learn how to cut and paste children!

This can imply a pretty horrific meaning. However, the right sentence is:

  • Correct: We will learn how to cut and paste, children!

  • Incorrect: I was ready to leave, but it started raining, so I called a taxi, but it was late, so I was late.

There is no need for so many commas. Instead, you can break down the sentence.

  • Correct: I was ready to leave when it started raining. So I called a taxi, but because it was late I was late too.

Other examples:

In lists:

I need to buy coffee, mayonnaise, and eggs from the grocery store.

Direct speeches:

He exclaimed, “Watch out!”

In lists

I need to buy coffee, mayonnaise, and eggs from the grocery store.

Direct speeches

He exclaimed, “Watch out!”

There’s also a type of comma known as the ‘‘Oxford Comma.’’ This type of comma is mainly used when talking about three items or more in a sentence. It is placed before the last item that you listed. Without an Oxford comma, you may confuse your audience.

For example:

  • Incorrect: I love my parents, Mother Teresa and Barack Obama

Here, your audience might think that your parents are Mother Teresa and Barack Obama.

  • Correct: I love my parents, Mother Teresa, and Barack Obama.

Other examples:

  • We need to choose between samples A, B, or C.

  • The survey depended on the age, gender, and location of the participants.

Punctuation marks in academic writing

Commas (,) vs. semicolons (;)

One of the common punctuation errors in academic writing is the use of commas and semi-colons. As mentioned above, a comma separates items in a list but does not distinguish two independent sentences from each other. For example:

  • Smith had never ridden on the back of a camel, he tried out of curiosity.

A semi-colon is the correct punctuation mark to use in place of the comma as both clauses are independent, with the second clause providing an explanation for the first. A comma is only appropriate in this instance if conjunction follows the comma. In which case, there would not be a need for a semi-colon.

  • Correct: Smith had never ridden on the back of a camel; he tried out of curiosity.

OR

  • Correct: Smith had never ridden on the back of a camel, so he tried out of curiosity.

Exclamation marks (!)

An exclamation mark is used at the end of a sentence that either expresses surprise or exclamation and in a direct speech that denotes that the speaker is either speaking loudly or shouting. It is also used when the author finds something amusing and is usually written within brackets like this: (!)

Here are some examples:

Denoting surprise or exclamation

Hi! How can I help you?

Denoting a shout or scream

The guard shouted, “Watch out!”

Denoting amusement

To think they would not recognize me!

 

Question marks (?)

The question mark is another punctuation mark that is used often, and the meaning is well understood. It is used after a question is asked in direct speech.

  • When will you return home?

Colons (:) and semicolons (;)

The next punctuation marks to discuss are colons and semicolons. A colon is a mark used after a word to introduce an explanation, example, or another phrase that explains the first one.

Here are some examples:

  • There were three variants: green, blue, and red.

  • We did not go to the fair: we were already late.

A semicolon serves the purpose between a period and a comma. It is used as a pause which is a little stronger than a comma but not as definitive as the period. It is used where two clauses are related to one another and can be written in one sentence.

For example:

  • We experimented for three days; it was successful.

A lot of times, people tend to confuse semicolons and colons with each other. However, please pay attention to such mistakes.

For example:

  • Incorrect: He bought the following food items; burger and coke.

However, this sentence is wrong because the phrase ‘‘burger and coke’’ is a dependent clause. Therefore, the correct sentence would be:

  • Correct: He bought the following food items: burger and coke.

Wrapping up: Are punctuation marks really important?

Now that we know what punctuation marks are and why they are important, you can understand why the academic field is so stern about them. After all, the wrong punctuation marks can completely alter the meaning of your sentence or even convey the wrong message. Therefore, make sure to learn about punctuation marks and use them appropriately.

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