April 29, 2014

How To Use Punctuation


Sometimes I think writers don’t read their own work. If they do, I wonder if they read it with an objective eye or ear. Many people before me have offered this same advice, but I think too many writers ignore it.

What advice?

To read your work out loud, or have someone else do it. (Even your computer will suffice.)

Reading your work aloud will do wonders for you, especially when it comes to learning how to use punctuation. It will help you catch spelling errors and typos; it will show you which sentences are too long, or too short; and it will let you hear the cadence of your voice. With the exception of the typos and errors, how your story sounds is a result of punctuation. Yes, those little commas, and periods, and quotation marks dictate your readers’ experience. That’s why…

a semicolon is like a Stop Sign a period is like a red lightYou Can’t Ignore Punctuation

Punctuation is a traffic control system for writing. Punctuation marks are signals. They are the stop signs and yield signs. And they are the red, yellow, and green lights. If you use a period when you should have used a comma, you’re telling the reader to stop! It would be like a red light popping up when you weren’t expecting it. Or a stop sign peeking out from behind a tree. Every punctuation mark has its own set of instructions.


• Commas are similar to yield signs or the green arrows on a traffic signal—slow down, 
but feel free to move along. 
• Semicolons are much closer to stop signs—come to a stop, but only briefly, 
then move ahead. 
• And periods are direct commands—a red light. 

If you misplace a comma or two, it’s not a huge deal. Readers will figure it out. But if you mess up too much,

it would be like shutting down the whole traffic system. Think of the mess that would be.

The next time you sit down to write, picture yourself as an engineer, and imagine it’s your job to install the stop signs and traffic signals in your city. You wouldn’t want to end up with a mess like this, would you?

bad punctuation is like a traffic jam

Take a little extra time to read your work before you send it off to the editor. A good copy editor will catch almost all of your punctuation problems, but it still doesn’t hurt to give it a reading aloud to make sure it sounds right to you. Sometimes what you think it sounds like in your head isn’t how it comes out when people read it.

Ciao, and thanks for stopping by,



If you enjoyed this post, please share.

Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. And he also writes non-fiction books including the No Mistakes Careers series.

He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”

photo credit: e_monk via photopin cc
photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography via photopin cc
photo credit: Travel Aficionado via photopin cc

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