Ask any editor. Punctuation mistakes hurt your writing. Take the time to get it right so that your writing is better received.

  1. How to use an apostrophe. This one was tough for me as a grade school student, so I know why people have trouble today. The issue revolves around the entire question of whether to use ‘s or s’ in cases of possessives. I used to draw the apostrophe almost on top of the s if I wasn’t sure, hoping the teacher would give me the benefit of the doubt since I was a well-behaved student! A singular possessive needs an ‘s and plural possessives need an s’. You may have to look up other uses of apostrophes to ensure proper use, but do not to leave it to chance!
  2. Overuse of semicolons. Resist the urge to keep combining sentences with a semicolon. If sentences are short and easily combined, it is OK to use a semicolon. If you are using a semicolon often to combine long, complex sentences, the reader is going to get bogged down in your reading. The semicolon is for occasional use only. Save your semicolons when you really need them to separate items in a series that use commas and can be confusing without the use of semicolons.
  3. Comma splices. Don’t force two sentences together with a comma in-between either. Make a concerted effort to read for a complete thought. If you pause to start the next thought, then you need to use a period.
  4. Missing the ? I don’t know why this is an easy mistake to miss, other than their being so many more periods that end sentences than there are question marks. But always look for your end punctuation. Questions deserve questions marks!
  5. Quotation marks and punctuation. This can be a difficult rule. A period or comma always goes inside the end quotation mark. Sometimes a question or exclamation mark can go outside the ending quotation–if the entire sentence asks a question or deserves the exclamation–not just the part in quotation. If only the quote needs a question or exclamation mark, then move the punctuation inside the end quotation mark.
  6. Dash or hyphen? A dash is not the same as a hyphen. A hyphen is used to break words at the end of a line or in compound words such as great-grandmother. There are two kinds of dashes. An en dash (about the length of the letter n) is used for age and date ranges. An em dash (about the length of a letter m) is used to emphasize a phrase that is set apart. Most word processing programs convert two hyphens to an em dash. Check with your word processing program to be certain what keystrokes to use.
  7. Its or It’s – This one really has a simple fix, so it amazes me how often people miss it. If the word is a contraction for “it is,” meaning you can read “it is” and the phrase makes sense in the sentence, then use it’s. If “it is” does not work in the sentence, use its.

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