Know your punctuation!

While poor punctuation normally won’t change the meaning of your words entirely, it can make sentences harder to read easily and can distract from your message.

Here we look at a few of the most common punctuation marks and how you are likely to use them in your professional or academic writing. 



Used to separate:

      items in a list: The project provided training, start-up kits and mentoring.

      clauses: After the team leader approves the time off, they update the team calendar.

 Don’t join too many clauses together with commas. Keep your sentences short.



Used to separate items in a list that already contain commas:

The three teams involved in the event are Development, Outreach, and Communications; Programmes; and Health.

If you use semicolons a lot, you are probably not using them correctly! They aren’t common.



Used to:

      introduce bullet points: see “Used to:” above

      introduce information: There are three focus regions: central, north and west.

 Don’t add hyphens or dashes to your colons (:-), it looks messy.



Used to join compound adjectives: The project created an easy-to-use ordering system for local health centres.

Make sure you are not over-hyphenating, e.g., don’t write things like “e-mail” or “co-operate”.

en dash

Used to show a range: The workshop is 1 p.m.­–5 p.m.

Dashes are not on standard keyboards — they are on the symbols tab of the “emoji panel”. Open this panel by pressing the Windows key and the full-stop (period) key.

em dash

Used to highlight information or a conclusion: The editing request system works on a first come, first served basis — so don’t wait until the last minute!

Don’t use too many dashes in your writing, it can start to look too informal.