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Topic Information

Why this topic is important

Where do I start?

Do I need Starter or Development Level?
- Starter Level Skill Check
- Development Level Skill Check

- Starter Level Advice
- Starter Level Practice
- Starter Level Checklist

- Development Level Advice
- Development Level Practice
- Development Level Checklist


Why this topic is important

Punctuation means marks which divide written work into parts or which tell the reader something. Each mark has an accepted use, and if you don't stick to this readers will be confused. Meaning can be changed by different punctuation.

The Starter Level for Punctuation covers the main uses of punctuation marks and is closely linked to the Starter Level Main Rules of Written English.

The Development Level covers more sophisticated uses of punctuation marks and aspects of punctuation that will affect the 'style' of your work.

You may think that tutors who focus on punctuation are just being 'picky', but punctuation doesn't just help readers understand your work - it can determine whether or not they do so.

At university you need to express complex ideas in your written work. Without good punctuation it can be very hard for the reader to follow complex ideas and longer sentences. If the person who is assessing your work cannot follow it, it will affect your grades.

Punctuation is closely linked to the main rules of written English. Punctuation tells the reader where parts of sentences start and end or gives messages about the nature of your words. For example, it tells the reader which words are a quotation (very important if you are to avoid being accused of plagiarism1).

Opinions differ about what is 'correct' punctuation, but this section describes what most people see as acceptable use.

Beware. If you word-process your work, beware of using a 'Grammar Checker' on your computer to check punctuation.What is 'correct' depends on what you want to say. Grammar Checkers sometimes give strange suggestions.Use them to alert you to a possible problem, rather than to always do as they suggest.


'Style' is hard to describe. A person's 'style' is made up of the way they talk, how they move, their clothes and hair, and their attitudes (e.g. laid back, energetic). Everybody has a personal style. Any written work also has a style, which makes an impression on the reader.

There is no one 'right' style. There is a good style for a particular piece of work, for its topic, purpose, type of work and reader. Self Test 1, Different Writing Styles in What is Good Written English at University? helps you to think about style (see the Main Menu).

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What does this topic cover?

This topic covers the punctuation marks you will need to use.

Note. This section only deals with punctuation marks. It does not deal with maths symbols, such as
= equal to
+ plus

Some maths symbols look like punctuation marks, but their use between numbers is not dealt with here. We try to avoid using grammatical terms, but there may be no other way to describe something. If you come across such a term, go to Definitions at the top of the page to see what it means.

Writing for University Courses deals only with areas where students often need help, not with the whole of English grammar and punctuation. (See References and Resources in the Main Menu for guidance on books).

If you have difficulty with the Practice exercises and with the ideas in Advice in Writing for University Courses, it may be worth contacting Student Services. They can conduct a screening for dyslexia and suggest ways you can get support to improve your skills. See References and Resources in the Main Menu for where to find Student Services.

Note. Throughout Writing for University Courses any examples which are incorrect have an asterisk(*) before them.

1 For guidance on plagiarism and on referencing see the Information Skills theme of Key Skills Online - for how to access it, go to References and Resources in the Main Menu.


© Learning & Teaching Institute, Sheffield Hallam University 2004