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Basic Web Writing Rules of Punctuation

by Staff Writers | The Web Writer Spotlight: Jan 18, 2012

Do you want to write high quality web content that passes your message across clearly and effectively? If yes, then use proper punctuation in your writing. Readers don't like poorly punctuated writing because it is difficult to read and understand. Here are some basic web writing rules of punctuation we use here at TWWS you can employ today to craft high quality web content that attracts, converts and satisfies readers.


Comma (,)


The comma is a valuable punctuation device that is used to separate structural elements of sentences into more manageable segments. Use the comma to separate independent clauses or parts of a sentence that can stand on their own. This rule applies whenever you use these seven coordinating conjunctions that are better remembered as the FANBOYS of grammar: For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So.

Use a comma after introductory phrases, clauses and words that precede the main clause. Also, separate items in a list with a comma. However, don’t use a comma to separate the last item in a list of three items. It is “U.S.A, Britain and China,” not “U.S.A, Britain, and China.

General rule of thumb: Use commas wherever necessary to prevent possible misreading or confusion, but do not overuse them.


Semicolon (;)


A semicolon is used to join two or more short sentences into one longer sentence where the thoughts expressed are strongly tied to one another. While semicolons are important for specific purposes in written English, they may not be particularly well suited for web writing. They don’t always lend themselves to lean, more direct sentence contractions.

Don't use semicolons if you notice they are leading to long and complex sentence structures. Use them when you want to connect independent clauses that indicate a closer relation between thoughts where a period would be too great a separation. For example, you can write: Brevity is short; clarity is sweet; style is pretty.

General rule of thumb: Don't use semicolons too frequently to avoid coming across as pretentious and complicated. Use the more familiar period (.) to break up long sentences into shorter, well-honed independent clauses that don't distract, slow down or alienate your readers.


Quotation marks (“”)


Quotation marks come in pairs. Never forget to close your quotes. Capitalize the first letter of a direct quote that makes a complete sentence, but not when the direct sentence is a piece or fragment of the original quote. Also, always put punctuation inside your quotation marks as demonstrated in the sentence: Jane said “Go home.”

General rule of thumb: Use quotation marks to set off or enclose the exact written or spoken words used by another person.


Hyphen (-)


A hyphen is used to connect individual words within a compound word. When it comes to deciding whether to hyphenate a word, it is a good idea to refer to authoritative references. Compounding and hyphenation is in a state of flux and authorities do not always agree on application.

Refer to formatting and style manuals like the APA, MLA and Chicago Style Manuals to find out if you need to hyphenate a word. You can find links to popular grammar and style manuals in our Web Resources for Writers page. Alternatively, do a quick Google search of the contentious word to find out whether the word is hyphenated or not.

General rule of thumb: Do not hyphenate unless it serves a specific purpose. If a compound word cannot be misread, do not hyphenate it.


Exclamation marks (!)




Avoid using exclamation marks too much. They have the tendency to make the writer seem unprofessional or cheesy, especially when used for emphasis and the intent does not come out as strongly. If you use them, don’t put two in the same paragraph or one in the last sentence of a paragraph followed by another in the first sentence of the subsequent paragraph.

General rule of thumb: Avoid exclamation marks whenever possible. If you use them, limit your use to a maximum of two in a single web page.


Parentheses ( )


Parentheses are used to enclose text that depart from the main subject or interrupt the flow in a piece of writing. They are also used to enclose nonessential material, such as abbreviations and dates. Always put punctuation on the outside of parentheses. For example:

He likes to shout (like I am doing now), but he is a nice guy.

He likes to shout (like I am doing now). He is a nice guy.

General rule of thumb: Don’t use too many parentheses in your copy to avoid distracting readers from the main message of your text.


Capitalization (CAP)


Use headline-style capitalization for titles and subtitles in your web copy. Headline-style capitalization entails capitalizing the first word of all important words in the title and subtitle. Do not capitalize less important words in titles and subtitles like prepositions, articles and conjunctions unless these words are the first words in the title.

Capitalize titles that precede the name of the title bearer, but not titles that follow the name of the title bearer as shown in the sentence examples below:

He worked with President Clinton.

He worked with Clinton, the US president.

General rule of thumb: Ensure all capitalizations flow naturally and don’t distract the reader from the message of your text with them.


Numbers (1-0)


As a general rule of thumb, write out numbers one through nine in words and 10 and above in digit form.


Take care of the basics and you will write in a way that piques the interest of your audience and raises your profile as an expert, professional writer.




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