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Punctuation

Make all punctuation consistent with rules of convention outlined in the American Heritage Dictionary.

Apostrophes (single closing quote):

  • Use only an apostrophe when making possessive a singular proper name ending in s.

Examples: Dickens' novels; Owens' office

  • Do not use an apostrophe when making figures and letters plural .

Examples: the 1970s; two CPUs

  • Punctuate years of college classes with an apostrophe.

Example: Class of '75

  • Associate's, bachelor's, and master's degrees should always be written with an 's.
  • Use primes (keyboard apostrophe and quotes) to designate inches (") and feet (').

Bullets:

  • In bulleted lists within text passages, the bullet is the punctuation. No other punctuation is required to separate listed items such as commas or semicolons.
  • If an item in the bulleted list is a complete sentence, the first word should be capitalized and a period should be at the end of the sentence. If the item is a sentence fragment, the first word should be lowercase with a period at the end of the last listed item.
  • Avoid mixing sentence and fragments in a bulleted list.

Commas, semicolons, colons, and periods:

  • Use commas to separate elements in a series. Use a comma before the concluding conjunction.
  • Use commas to separate a series of adjectives equal in rank. If replacing commas by the word and does not change the meaning, the adjectives are equal.
  • Use commas for most numbers higher than 999. The major exceptions are street addresses, room numbers, serial numbers, telephone numbers, and years.
  • Follow a statement which introduces a direct quotation of one or more paragraphs with a colon. Also use a colon after "as follows."
  • Use a semicolon to separate two related complete sentences.
  • Use a semicolon to separate complicated series in which commas might be confusing.

Example: my sister, Jane; my brother, John; and my husband, Bob.

  • When listing names with cities or states, use a comma before and after the state name.

Example: John Smith is a Greensboro, N.C., native.

  • When writing a date, place a comma between the day and the year as well as after the year.

Example: May 31, 1975, marked the beginning of her success.
Example: Saturday, June 10, is the first day of the festival.

  • Do not place a comma between the month and year when the day is not mentioned.
  • Do not use a comma before Jr., Sr., or a Roman numeral such as I, II, or III.
  • If a phrase is within parentheses at the end of a sentence, place the period after the closing parenthesis. If a complete sentence is in parentheses, the period should be inside the closing parenthesis.
  • No word space should be used between the initials of an abbreviation or a person's name.

Examples: U.S.A.; J.R.R. Tolkien

Dashes:

  • Use an en dash with no extra space before or after to indicate continuing (or inclusive) numbers, dates, times, or reference numbers.

Example: 2000–05, but when written in text material, "from 2000 to 2005"
Example: May–June 2000, but when written in text material, "from May to June 2000"
Example: 8:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m., but when written in text material, "between 8:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m."
Example: pp. 1–100, but when written in text material, "from pages 1 to 100"

  • Use an en dash in a compound adjective, one element of which consists of two words or of a hyphenated word.

Examples: New York–London flight; post–Civil War period; quasi-public–quasi-private judicial body

  • Use an em dash with no extra space before or after to denote a sudden break in thought that causes an abrupt change in sentence structure.

Example: Guilt—the one thing that stood in his way.

  • Use an em dash when defining or enumerating complementary elements.

Example: The addition of two key ingredients—cinnamon and cloves—made all the difference in the world!

  • Use an em dash in sentences having several elements as referents of a pronoun that is the subject of a final, summarizing clause.

Example: Caroline, Sarah, Betty, and Amy—all wore pink dresses to the prom.

Note: For the Web, use of two hyphens to replace an em dash is acceptable.

Ellipses:

  • In general, treat an ellipsis as a three-letter word, constructed with three periods and a regular space on either side of the ellipsis ( ... ).
  • When the grammatical sense calls for a question mark, exclamation point, comma, or colon, the sequence is: word, punctuation mark, space, ellipsis.

Example: Will you come? ...

  • When material is deleted at the end of one paragraph and at the beginning of the one that follows, place an ellipsis in both locations.
  • In writing a story, do not use ellipses at the beginning and end of direct quotes that form complete sentences.

Example: "It has become evident to me that I no longer have a strong enough political base," Nixon said.
not
" ... it has become evident to me that I no longer have a strong enough political base ... ," Nixon said.

Hyphens:

  • Use hyphens to join two or more words serving as a single adjective before a noun, except when the first word of the compound is the adverb "very" or an adverb ending in "-ly" or when the adjectives follow the noun.
  • Use hyphens whenever ambiguity would result if they were omitted.
Italics:
  • Use italics sparingly for emphasis. Italics are hard to read on some monitors and can be especially difficult for visually impaired readers.
  • Do italicize the titles of books, CDs, catalogs, paintings, plays, movies, radio and television programs, long musical compositions, operas, pamphlets, periodicals, and Web publications (but not Web sites).
  • Do not italicize titles of book series, conference presentations, dissertations and theses, film series, lectures, radio and television episodes, songs, essays, lectures, parts of volumes (chapters, titles of papers, etc.), and short stories. These should be placed in quotation marks.

Quotation Marks:

  • Always place the period or comma within the quotation marks.
  • Set quotation marks after periods and commas and before colons and semicolons. Exclamation points and interrogation marks that are not part of the quotation should be set outside quotation marks.
  • Use single quotation marks for quotations printed within other quotations.
  • If several paragraphs are to be quoted, use quotation marks at the beginning of each paragraph, but at the end of the last paragraph only. No quotation marks are needed for passages set off from the text by additional space, an indent, or change of typeface.
  • Use editor's brackets, not parentheses, to set off editorial remarks within direct quotations.
  • Use quotation marks for the titles of book series, conference presentations, dissertations and theses, film series, lectures, radio and television episodes, songs, essays, lectures, part of volumes (chapters, titles of papers, etc.), and short stories.