Only the most common punctuation issues are covered below. Webster’s New World College Dictionary includes a helpful and more detailed punctuation section.
Each initial in a person’s name should be followed by a period and one space:
C. S. Lewis
When a person’s initials stand alone, do not use periods or spaces:
United States: used as an adjective or a noun; US or U.S. in headlines and U.S. in body copy.
Spell out on first reference unless acronym is universally known (e.g., MBA but Master of Liberal Arts). Put acronyms in parentheses immediately after and use the acronym consistently on subsequent references. See also degrees.
- The university offers a Master of Accounting degree. Professor Louise E. Single directs the MACT program.
Exception: FAFSA and other acronyms that are pronounced as words can be introduced as so:
Free Application for Federal Student Loans, or FAFSA.
Avoid the use of ampersands except in titles where they are designated:
U.S. News & World Report; Health & Counseling Center.
In print or web copy, ampersands are permitted in headlines and subheads where space is limited or they enhance readability.
However, do not use an ampersand in a proper name.
Incorrect: School of Behavioral & Social Sciences
Only use an “apostrophe s” with numbers when indicating possessive.
- The hilltop experienced new growth during the 1950s.
- Year as possessive: 1982’s music scene was dominated by Michael Jackson.
- Decade as possessive: The 1980s’ style of clothing included parachute pants and leg warmers.
Apostrophes should not be used when making acronyms or other abbreviations plural:
- A wide range of DVDs and VCRs
When the items in a bulleted list do not complete the sentence, use initial caps to begin each item listed and do not use a period at the end of each item.
- The new residence hall amenities include the following:
Wireless Internet access
When using complete sentences, always use punctuation and a period at the end.
Each entry begins with a capital letter, even if it is a sentence fragment.
Do not mix sentence styles; use all complete sentences, or use all sentence fragments.
Exception: For formal, non-marketing writing, this style can be used:
If the items in the list complete the sentence begun in the introductory element, use lower case letters, separate each item with a comma or semicolon, and use a period after the final item.
Each floor features a:
spacious kitchen and
Used to introduce a list or for emphasis. When a complete sentence follows the colon, capitalize the first word.
- The Marketing Office offers expertise in five areas: design, writing, editing, marketing and public relations.
- The university’s goal: achieving recognition among the best small universities in the nation.
- The result: Students develop critical skills that distinguish them among candidates for admission to graduate schools or for professional employment.
Colons are always placed outside of items in quotation marks.
He always says “please” to: his parents, teachers and friends.
Used to separate items in a series. A comma is not necessary before a conjunction in a simple series.
The U.S. flag is red, white and blue.
Do use a comma to set off the concluding element of a series where one or more of the items in the series contains a conjunction.
St. Edward’s offers master’s degrees in business administration, accounting, counseling, leadership and change, and digital marketing and analytics.
Used when multiple adjectives precede a noun.
A small, private university ...
Note: Commas should only go between equal adjectives. To determine equal adjectives:
Flip the order of the adjectives. If they can be reversed without a problem, they are equal.
A small, private university...
A private, small university...
Add the word “and” between the adjectives. If “and” belongs between them, they are equal.
A small, private university ...
A small and private university ...
Used to attribute a quote.
“We will achieve this goal,” he said.
Used to distinguish nonessential information.
Mary Rogers, at 42 years old, was nervous when she visited the professor’s office.
Used with a conjunction to join two separate sentences that are closely linked.
He announced the plan in mid-December, and it was fully implemented by Feb. 3.
Do not put a comma between two parallel verbs that share the same subject, even if the first verb is part of a long phrase.
- WRONG: The alumni joined local chapters, and participated in events on campus.
- RIGHT: The alumni joined local chapters and participated in events on campus.
As an alternative, restate the subject before the second verb. This creates two independent clauses linked by a comma and a conjunction — a grammatically correct construction.
RIGHT: The alumni joined local chapters, and they participated in events on campus.
When indicating a month, day and year in the middle of a sentence, a comma follows the year. If only the month and year are given, do not use a comma, and do not abbreviate the month.
- The event took place Feb. 15, 2009, in Main Building.
- The project was completed between February 2010 and January 2011.
Commas and periods are always placed inside of ending quotation marks, except when just a letter or a number.
- He always says “please,” but he rarely says “thank you.”
- On her last exam, the math student expected an “A”.
When the dictionary is unclear about the correct spelling of a noun that may just as easily be two words, keep the words combined. For example:
- "website” instead of “web site”
- “username” instead of “user name”
- “login” instead of “log in”
- “healthcare” instead of “health care”
- “fundraising” instead of “fund raising” or “fund-raising”
Keep words separate when they are verbs.
- Adjective: “I typed the login password.”
- Verb: “I will log in tomorrow.”
- Noun: Checkout begins at 3 p.m.
- Verb: Check out by 5 p.m.
Indicates omission of words, a pause or continuation.
In copy, place a space on either side of the ellipsis. Apply these guidelines ... to all campus communications.
Em Dash [—]
Used for emphasis or to signal an abrupt change.
Our program — one of the top five in the nation — was chosen for the award.
Used to avoid confusing comma punctuation. The AP Stylebook explains, “When a phrase that otherwise would be set off by commas contains a series of words that must be separated by commas, use dashes to set off the full phrase.” AP lists the following example:
He listed the qualities — intelligence, humor, conservatism, independence — that he liked in an executive.
Used to identify the source of a quote:
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?” — Martin Luther King Jr.
Include space before and after the em dash. (This differs from other styles — including AP — that don’t use space.)
On a MAC
hold down three keys simultaneously:
option and shift and hyphen
On a PC
hold down the Alt key and — on the number pad — type 0151
En Dash [–]
Used to signal inclusive numbers, dates and times.
- Jan. 1–10, 2003
- May–July 1987
- April 1, 1965–June 15, 1967
- pages 11–24
- 7–9 p.m.
- John 4:7–6:1
According to the Chicago Manual, the en dash also is “used in place of a hyphen in a compound adjective when one of the elements of the adjective is an open compound (such as ‘New York’) or when two or more of the elements are hyphenated compounds.” Chicago lists the following examples:
- New York–London flight
- post–Civil War period
- quasi-public–quasi-judicial body
- pre–physical therapy
On a MAC
hold down three keys simultaneously: option and hyphen
On a PC
hold down the Alt key and — on the number pad — type 0150
Indicates extreme emphasis or excitement. Use sparingly and singly (double and triple exclamation points are redundant).
Hyphenation of proper nouns is hotly debated. To maintain consistency, we follow the common practice of eliminating hyphens in proper nouns and modifiers:
- He is an African American.
- Asian Americans are a growing segment of the student body.
- She studies African American poets.
- Native American traditions are celebrated on campus.
Used to aid clear communication when compound modifiers precede a noun, except — according to the AP Stylebook — for “the adverb ‘very’ and all adverbs that end in ‘–ly.’” See the AP Stylebook for additional guidelines and examples.
- student-centered curriculum
- short-lived season
- very short lived season
- nationally ranked university
Used to eliminate duplicated vowels or tripled consonants:
Suspending Hyphen: When a series of hyphenated adjectives has
a common basic element and this element is shown only with the last term, insert a “suspending hyphen” after each of the incomplete adjectives.
- Long- and short-term plans
- A three- or four-color cover
Titles of books, magazines, plays, journals, films, TV, radio programs and art exhibits are italicized.
Titles of book chapters, articles and individual TV and radio episodes are placed in quotation marks.
Spell out numbers one through nine. Use numbers for 10 and above.
Use numbers when used with financial figures, items, dimensions:
$9 million; 6.27 billion people; 1,000 books; 12th place; 427 square feet; 6,000 miles
Spell out numbers at the beginning of a sentence, except for decades.
- 2015 is our anniversary ...
- Fifteen years ago, the university ...
Use decimals or words to convey fractions.
- 2.5 inches
- One-third of users
When numbers are adjacent, spell out one number and use numbers for the other.
- We need 100 ten-page booklets.
- There were 8 six-foot-tall statues in the museum hall.
- Spell out first through ninth.
- Starting with 10th, use numbers. Do not use superscript.
- Exception: In headlines, use numbers for emphasis.
- Hilltoppers Take 3rd Place in Nationals
- If the ordinal is part of a name, use the name’s standard formatting.
- 125th Anniversary Celebration
- Twentieth Century Fund
- He lives in the 7th Ward.
When referencing a page in text, spell out “page” and use the numeral.
- See page 84
For parentheses within a sentence, a final punctuation mark goes outside the parenthesis (like this).
- John Hiatt ’99 never dreamed of starting his own cupcake stand, but there he stood in the kitchen that Friday morning, baking away (and in a “kiss the chef” apron, no less).
If material inside the parentheses within a sentence requires a concluding punctuation mark such as an exclamation point or question mark (but not a period!), the parentheses can be followed with a period (like this!).
- The class was incredibly thorough, teaching the students everything they needed to know about the history of Victorian banking (more than they probably wanted to know!).
Don’t substitute parentheses for a comma. Place a comma outside parentheses if it’s part of a clause or list that needs a comma anyway.
- He brought orange juice, bagels (including that tasty cream cheese), coffee and napkins for breakfast.
- It’s not that I mind the class (Victorian banking being a favorite subject), it’s just that I find it rather dry.
Correct: A facilitator should prepare his or her presentations.
Incorrect: A facilitator should prepare their presentation.
Use single quotation marks only for quotes within quotes.
- “The dirigible pilot observed that ‘His Majesty’ had arrived.”
Use the smart (“curly”) quotes,” not the straight quotation marks that denote measurement. Word processors and other programs have preference setting for making smart quotes.
Used when the comma does not provide the required separation of information.
- The siblings Margo (Reese) Griffin ’71, of Plano; Thomas Griffin ’76, of Austin; and Alex Griffin ’77, of San Francisco, Calif., established the trust.
Used to link independent clauses when a conjunction is not used.
- The president announced the plan in mid-December; it was fully implemented by Feb. 3.
Used between items in a series when the items themselves contain commas or other marks of punctuation.
- Our athletic facilities include a 25-meter indoor pool; fitness center; gymnasium; basketball, racquetball, volleyball and tennis courts; and an intramural recreation field.
Semicolons are always placed outside of items in quotation marks.
She always says “please”; why would she not, given her etiquette training?