Punctuation Marks Are Clues

By on July 09, 2014 . Category Column

The texting revolution concerns me. It’s a disservice to new writers. This generation is growing up without punctuation. Everything is shorthand. Words are abbreviated. Sentences are now incomplete phrases. Dialogs are missing. The reader has to do double takes to make sense of your thoughts.

U def agree

Um, I meant to ask if you definitely agree with me. Perhaps a question mark would’ve clarified.

There is a time and a place for abbreviations, but your first novel is not one of them. Pay attention to sentence structure, grammar, word choices, and punctuation. They are your shield of credibility. More importantly, they help your reader understand what you’re trying to say.

Punctuation marks are clues. A capital letter indicates the beginning of a new thought, a comma signifies a pause, and a period means the thought is now complete. Remove the clues and the reader doesn’t know how to interpret. Check out this example:

i can’t believe you’re doing this to me it’s sad

That can either mean:

I can’t believe you’re doing this to me.  It’s sad.

Or, it can mean:

I can’t believe you’re doing this.  To me, it’s sad.

Depending upon punctuation placement, they have completely different meanings.


Now, I’m not a stickler for any one particular grammar rule. For every rule there is an exception, and it can drive you nuts. I do, however, think you should be consistent with your choices and focus on making sense. That’s how you should view grammar. Grammar is a system of language created for communication. When you write, you are communicating with your reader. Punctuation is a tool that minimizes confusion for your readers.


Now, let’s go back to our example and consider “your” versus “you’re”:

 I can’t believe your doing this to me. 

I can’t believe you’re doing this to me.

An apostrophe signifies a contraction, which is the joining of two words. When all else fails, stretch it out. I can’t believe you are doing this to me. That sounds right. Now try this one:

Is that you’re book?

Is that your book?

Is that you are book? doesn’t make sense. Go with the latter.


In the end, think of readers as detectives eager to find clues, so they can solve the case correctly. As the writer, it is your job to properly punctuate. Leave them a trail of bread crumbs to follow and Write On…


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