Are you ever confused by the punctuation rules? If so, this post is for you. In general, there are two keys things to remember:
1. Don't overuse it!
There are some punctuation marks which tend to be overused. These include exclamation points, ellipses/dashes, and semicolons.
- In many cases, the dialogue can show that a comment is being shouted. An exclamation point is rarely needed.
- Narrative beats can generally be used in place of ellipses/dashes. (For example: "Cut that out." The young man scowled. "I'm not joking.")
- Semicolons can often be replaced with a period or comma. This can make your work smoother, particularly in fiction.
2. Be consistent!
As is often the case, consistency is important. If something is not listed in the publishing house style guide or reference manuals, choose one way and stick with it throughout the entire manuscript. This commonly includes things such as commas, single quotation marks, apostrophes (particularly in relation to words ending in "s"), and curly vs. straight quotation marks.
* Writers and editors should have access to The Chicago Manual of Style reference manual. When in doubt about a rule, it is best to look it up in this book, as it is a primary resource in the publishing industry. While there is some subjectivity involved (particularly in fiction), it is important to be familiar with the rules contained in this resource. Basic punctuation rules are not subjective. There is even an online subscription available for The Chicago Manual of Style at the following website: