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Punctuation

Ampersands

Unless an ampersand (&) is part of an official name or title, spell out “and” when writing for the web.

Brackets

Brackets are used to indicate that the writer has replaced the original word in quoted text with a different word to clarify the speaker’s intended meaning.

  • Examples:

    She attended [graduate] school.

    He sat in on [several courses] during his day visiting the university.

Colons

Capitalize the first word after a colon only if a complete sentence follows.

  • Examples:

    I have several favorite foods: apples, bananas, and pita chips.

    I have several favorite foods: Apples were my first favorite snack, but pita chips are a rising star in my life.

Commas

We use the serial comma (sometimes called the Oxford comma). In a list of three or more, include a comma before the conjunction.

  • Example:

    Please buy bread, milk, and apples.

Dashes

Different types of dashes are used in different situations.

Em dashes

An em dash is a long dash. Use an em dash with a space on either side to set off a phrase. Don’t use a single hyphen in place of an em dash.

  • Example:

    We emphasize open, digital record keeping, and—whenever possible—we illuminate our processes.

To make an em dash:

  • Mac: Option + shift + hyphen

  • Windows: Alt + 0151 (using the number pad)

  • WordPress: Three consecutive hyphens

En dashes

An en dash is shorter than an em dash. Use an en dash to convey a range. The en dash is also used to show connected items. Don’t use a single hyphen in place of an en dash.

  • Examples:

    The program is open to children ages 10–12.

    He referred to the Sarbanes–Oxley Act.

To make an en dash:

  • Mac: Option + hyphen

  • Windows: Alt + 0150 (using the number pad)

  • WordPress: Two consecutive hyphens

See also Hyphens.

Ellipses

Ellipses indicate things left unsaid. They are often used to shorten quoted material, removing irrelevant words without changing the meaning. Unless used to shorten a quote, try to avoid using them. If they are necessary, they should be treated as a word, with spaces before and after.

  • Example:

    The sign said “no eating, drinking, or smoking,” becomes, The sign said “no … smoking.”

Hyphens

The hyphen indicates conjunction and has several uses:

Use a hyphen when the letters brought together:

  • Are the same.

  • Are vowels, except for double-e combinations with the prefixes pre- and re-.

  • Form an uncommon word.

  • May be misread.

Use a hanging hyphen when two compound adjectives are separated.

  • Example:

    three- and four-digit numbers

Hyphenate two-word numbers from 21 to 99 when presented as words.

  • Example:

    sixty-six

Hyphenate fractions.

  • Example:

    six-eighths

Do not hyphenate other multi-word numbers.

  • Example:

    two hundred (not two-hundred)

See also Dashes.

Parentheses

Parentheses are used to set off nonessential information in a sentence.

  • Example:

    The director (and the deputy director) attended the gala.

Parentheses are also used to set off area codes in phone numbers. Type one space after the area code in parentheses.

  • Example:

    (215) 867-5309

Periods and spaces

Do not separate acronyms with periods or blank spaces.

  • Example:

    GOP, NASA, OBE, GmbH

Many periods and spaces that were traditionally required have now dropped out of usage.

  • Example:

    “PhD” is preferred to “Ph.D.”

Truncated (“Hon.” for “Honorable”), compressed (“cmte.” for “committee”) and contracted (“Dr.” for “Doctor”) abbreviations may or may not be closed with a period.

Type only one space after a period.

Quotation marks

Below are examples of correctly punctuated quotations:

  • “Would you like a banana?” he asked.

  • “I hate bananas,” she said. “You know I hate bananas.”

  • He paused before saying, “Bananas are not something people should hate.”

Quotation marks should NOT be used to indicate emphasis or emotion, nor should they be used to set off proper names.

  • Examples:

    Get ready for hurricane season.
    NOT: Get ready for “hurricane season.”

    We are currently understaffed but we will do our best to get to your concern in a timely manner.
    NOT: We are currently understaffed but we will “do our best” to get to your concern in a timely manner.

    Joe Johnson became the head of the Department of Human Affairs in June 1999.
    NOT: Joe Johnson became the head of the “Department of Human Affairs” in June 1999.

Semicolons

You can use semicolons at the end of bullet points. If you choose to punctuate your bulleted list this way, do not capitalize the first letter in each bullet point unless it is a proper noun. Place a coordinating conjunction after the semicolon of the second-to-last bullet point.

  • Example:

    Acceptable forms of identification include:

    - driver's license;
    - birth certificate; or
    - Social Security card.