Punctuation Series: How to Edit Punctuation Marks

How to edit punctuation marks

Presentation is everything, especially when it comes to the publishing world. And your presentation of punctuation is crucial to your book’s success. But punctuation can be tricky, boring, and downright distressing at times. As a writer and an editor, I completely understand your frustration with grammar altogether. You’d rather write, right? Right! So let’s continue our 2019 focus on a simple, easy-to-understand punctuation series that I hope will be a help and encouragement to you, allowing you more time to write well.

If you feel like you’re back in grammar school, please take heart—and know that this isn’t going to be a boring, stuffy ‘nother grammar lesson. When writing, it’s super important to make sure our punctuation marks are in the right spots, as it’s like a golden ticket to success.

Where Are Poorly-placed Punctuation Marks Located?

  • Surrounding dialogue
  • In the middle of two conjoined sentences
  • At the end of sentences
  • And anywhere your fingers accidentally touch a key

Let’s Dive In!

Commas (Chicago Manual of Style 6.16 and following)

  1. Wrong: “I don’t think we’d better go there”, Robert said.
    (commas always go inside the closing quote mark with dialogue, especially with a dialogue tag.)
    Right: “I don’t think we’d better go there,” Robert said.
  2. Wrong: Julie left came back and left again.
    (this is treated like a series of items, and each one needs a comma in between.)
    Right: Julie left, came back, and left again.
  3. Wrong: After removing her shoes she hopped onto the couch.
    (commas are used with adverbial introductory phrases)
    Right: After removing her shoes, she hopped onto the couch.

Semicolons (Chicago Manual of Style 6.56 and following)

  1. Wrong: She spent much of her free time at the bookstore no flimsy bookbag would do.
    (a semicolon is needed because two subjects within the same idea is present.)
    Right: She spent much of her time at the bookstore; no flimsy bookbag would do.
  2. Wrong: The writer had a blister on his finger therefore, he put a Band-Aid on his finger and kept typing.
    (a semicolon is needed before the word therefore because it acts as an adverbial conjunction that joins two sentences of the same idea.)
    Right: The writer had a blister on his finger; therefore, he put a Band-Aid on his finger and kept typing.
  3. Wrong: Joe, Jamie, and Juanita, research editors Carlos, production editor and Larry, managing editor, offered support for the local magazine.
    (a semicolon is needed in several places to pare off the different categories.)
    Right: Joe, Jamie, and Juanita, research editors; Carlos, production editor; and Larry, managing editor, offered support for the local magazine.

Periods (Chicago Manual of Style 6.12 and following)

  1. Wrong: She set the groceries on the counter and put the milk in the fridge,
    (a period is needed at the end of the sentence, of course. Many times, we get in a hurry and our fingers fly wherever…)
    Right: She set the groceries on the counter and put the milk in the fridge.
  2. Wrong: We wanted to see Mount Ranier while one vacation. (We were told it was gorgeous).
    (periods go inside the sentence if enclosed in parenthesis as a complete thought.)
    Right: We wanted to see Mount Ranier while one vacation. (We were told it was gorgeous.)
  3. Wrong: The Bible says, “He must increase but I must decrease” (John 3:30.)
    (periods go outside of the sentence if the parenthesis is attached to the sentence as a complete thought.)
    Right: The Bible says, “He must increase but I must decrease” (John 3:3).

Using well-placed punctuation marks is important because your overall presentation makes a world of difference to your editor, agent, publisher, and readers. That may seem counterintuitive because the writing is equally important, but it’s the presentation that tends to enhance your credibility as a writer. (Especially if you self-publish and are doing your own first-draft editing.)

Next month, we’ll look at some more ways to edit the punctuation in your manuscript, but for now. . . remember, please don’t call the semicolon a “semi comma” as an insurance agent I used to transcribe for called it. Every time he wanted to insert a semicolon, he’d say, “semi comm,” and it just cracked me up!

Please take a minute and join in the discussion! I’d love to hear from you!

Which of these punctuation marks do you contend with or love?

2 thoughts on “Punctuation Series: How to Edit Punctuation Marks

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