Whenever I have an essay or some form of a written assignment, I like to jump right in and start writing. No outline, no big plans, just me typing whatever ideas pop into my head. I always like to save the editing and revising part for last. Usually when I start to read my work over, I notice that all of my thoughts start to sound and look the same, and they can get lost within all my different ideas. This is where punctuation comes in to save the day. Not only does punctuation help with the flow of my paper, but it also gives diversity to my sentences so they do not all look the same. Don’t get me wrong, not all of your sentences have to have a lot of fancy punctuation marks within them, but it doesn’t hurt to change up some sentences here and there to give your paper more structure and excitement.
My favorite way to change up my sentences is by adding in a semicolon.
I’ve often been told that I overuse semicolons in my papers, but I can’t help it, they’re my favorite! In my opinion, the best way to use a semicolon is when you have two individual thoughts or sentences you feel would work better together. For example, I could have two separate sentences in my paper, but they have similar ideas: My favorite place to write is at the library. It is quiet and comfortable. While these two independent sentences work nicely on their own, they would even work better if they were put together using a semicolon: My favorite place to write is at the library; it is quiet and comfortable. Since these two sentences both discuss where my favorite place is to write, it makes sense that they should work off each other. Even though adding a semicolon may not seem like a huge change, it just makes your paper a little more cohesive, and adds a nice flow.
I also like to incorporate colons or an em dash. Colons are great for listing in papers. Here’s an example, I am a huge sports fan, some of my favorite sports include: football, basketball, and baseball. Just like with the semicolon, it may not seem like a huge change to add in a colon for listing purposes, but it makes the sentence more put together, and more concise. The em dash is another favorite of mine. The em dash is a great way to break up multiple ideas in a sentence. Here’s an example, The food I ate today—fruit, vegetables, pasta—made me really full. The em dash allows you to add in important details without making the sentence seem like a run-on. It is a helpful tool to separate ideas in one sentence, while still having one cohesive idea.
Varying punctuation diversifies your paper. Not only will it make your paper stand out from the crowd, but it will also ensure that your paper is concise and detailed. Not every sentence needs to have complicated punctuation, but adding in a few different punctuation marks here and there will really make your paper more unique. So next time you write a paper, don’t forget to mix up your punctuation!
Mackenzie Bonvenuto is a Junior, Middle Education for Social Studies and Language Arts major. This is her second year at the Writing Center!