Colon / Semicolon

Use a colon after an independent clause to introduce a series or a list, amplification or an illustrative quotation. A colon indicates that what follows is related to the preceding clause.

  • The materials required for the art class are as follows: sketch pad, pencils and imagination.
  • When he finally left the room, I was reminded of a line from Oscar Wilde: “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.”

Use a semicolon to divide the two parts of a compound sentence (two independent clauses) when the clauses are not connected by a conjunction. The semicolon is used to indicate a greater separation of thought than a comma but less than the separation that a period implies.

  • The report was due tomorrow; it arrived today.

When items in a series are long and complex or involve internal punctuation, they should be separated by semicolons for the sake of clarity.

  • The men found work in very different fields: Justin, musical entertainment; Phil, counseling; and Barack, politics.

A semicolon is also used to connect two independent clauses that use a connecting word such as therefore or however.

  • The report was due tomorrow; however, we received it today.


Use commas to separate elements in a series, but not before the conjunction if it is a simple series.

  • She bought the scarf that was black, gold and gray.

Put a comma before the concluding conjunction in a series if an integral element of the series requires a conjunction.

  • He had juice, potatoes, and ham and eggs for breakfast.

Use a comma before the concluding conjunction in a complex series of phrases

  • Examples of computer research and development at UT Dallas include wireless networks, optical switches, embedded software, ultra-reliable software, information processing standards and security, and digital processing of images.

Enclose parenthetical expressions between commas. Also, treat i.e., etc., and e.g. as parenthetical and punctuate accordingly.

  • His wife, Dr. Joan Campbell, is a prominent researcher at the institute.
  • Flags, banners, posters, etc., were left at the front desk.


Use dashes to denote an abrupt change in thought in a sentence or an emphatic pause. Spaces are required on both sides of dashes.

  • He noted the characteristics — energy, concentration, curiosity — that he prized in his students.

An em dash (longer than a hyphen) can be inserted by using the following shortcut keystrokes: Ctrl, Alt, Num Lock, Hyphen.

Exclamation Mark

Avoid overuse of the exclamation point. Use the mark to express a high degree of surprise, incredulity or other strong emotion.


Words are joined by hyphens when used to form an adverbial or adjectival phrase. Exceptions to this rule are the adverb “very” and all adverbs that end in “ly.”

  • Right: A first-term committee member.
  • Right: A very wide board.
  • Right: A part-time student.
  • Wrong: A beautifully-crafted boat.


Use semicolons to separate the items in a list if the items themselves have include commas.

  • The players came from Brooklyn, N.Y.; Dallas, Texas; Westport, Conn.; and Boston, Mass.

Use numbers in a vertical list only when the sequence matters.

Those attending the play should:

      1. Arrive on campus by 3:15 p.m.
      2. Register at the hospitality desk.
      3. Assemble at the University Theatre by 4:15 p.m.


In lists of bulleted items, all of the items should be followed by periods.


The dentist recommended that all of his patients:

  • Brush at least twice a day.
  • Floss nightly.
  • Schedule checkups twice a year.


His credentials were impressive:

  • 1400 SAT.
  • National Honor Society.
  • Top 5 percent of his class.
  • Editor of the school newspaper.


Write percents as one word in body copy. Use the % symbol for charts, captions, etc.

Question Mark

The guidelines for using a question mark are as follows:

  • At the end of a direct question: Did she receive her degree?
  • At the end of an interpolated question: You told me – do I understand this correctly? – you have no interest in attending the concert.

Quotation Marks

Use curled quote marks, not straight marks. Commas and periods always go inside quotation marks. Colons and semicolons go outside quotation marks. For question marks and exclamation points, if the punctuation is part of the quotation, put it inside the quotation marks; if it’s not part of the quotation, put it outside the quotation marks.

Use quotation marks:

  • To indicate the exact words that someone spoke or published.
  • The first time you refer to a nickname.
  • The first time you use a term or phrase ironically or sarcastically.

    Right: To quote Goethe, “A clever man commits no minor blunders.”
    Right: The “free” food was included with the $1,000 ticket.