Three Punctuation Problems--Solved!
Recently, readers have asked me some interesting punctuation questions that frequently trip them (and most of us) up. We don't learn about the finer points of bulleted lists in school, for example, yet aren't they a staple of many offices' communications?
Here, I set out some rules, acknowledging that custom sometimes trumps purity. Examples are in italics.
Where to Put Quotation Marks
Placement with straightforward dialogue is easy. (He said, "I'm in.") Things get tricky in situations like the ones below.
1. Place a period and a comma inside quotation marks, even when not part of the quote itself.
The operative word was "forbidden."
He said, "Yes, please," and then he took four cookies.
2. Place a semi-colon and a colon outside quotation marks.
I love the song "Yesterday"; he hates it.
She asked for the following "volunteers": Tom, Dick, and Harry.
3. Place a question mark and an exclamation mark outside quotation marks when not part of the quote.
Who wrote, "Quoth the raven, nevermore"?
When she took the money, she didn't even say, "Thank you"!
By the way, British style is to place the punctuation mark outside the quotation marks in all three cases.
How to Punctuate (or Not) a Bulleted List
Many years ago in a scientific and technical editing course, my instructor sighed and said, "And now we get to the bulleted list."
The bulleted list--such a cause of consternation.
1a. When you introduce a list with a full sentence, use a colon.
The main areas of concern are as follows:
1b. When you introduce a list with a phrase, use an em-dash or nothing at all.
The main areas of concern are
We have a hard time launching a list without a colon. It "looks" wrong. Depending on your tolerance level, this may be one of those instances where custom trumps purity, in my opinion.
2a. When list items are short, no punctuation is needed in Chicago style; APA style prefers commas and a period.
Bring these documents:
- Picture ID
- Appointment letter
- Insurance card
Bring these documents:
- Picture ID,
- Appointment letter, and
- Insurance card.
Whichever style you choose, remain consistent within your organization or, at least, within your document or website.
2b. When list items contain full sentences, use a semi-colon or period after each item, with a period at the end of the list.
She described several problems that could lead to accidents:
- It is impossible to take a left onto Duke Street at rush hour;
- Traffic lights are often not working on Quaker Lane;
- Recent construction has left the road pitted with potholes;
- Most motorists are unaware of these problems and drive too fast.
When each bullet has several sentences within, periods are normally used.
3. It is okay to have bulleted lists with different end-punctuation within the same document.
So if you have some of 2a and some of 2b, relax.
Finally, more a stylistic than grammatical point, bulleted lists help the reader, but only when they are not overused.
How to Punctuate Parentheses
Our last problem of the day: punctuation with parentheses.
1. Place a parenthetical phrase within a sentence and punctuate outside the close-parentheses.
She couldn't believe her luck (and didn't bother to ask any further questions).
2. Use punctuation within parentheses with a full sentence. Note in this example that no punctuation directly follows the close-parentheses.
She couldn't believe her luck. (And she decided not to ask any further questions.)