Steering Through Punctuation: A Brief Overview of the Basics Proper punctuation is vital to your writing, for the sake of your readers. Much like roadsigns, punctuation provides visual cues as to where they should stop, slow down, or make a quick turn. The following is a quick guide to some common punctuation marks. The Period (.) The period is the literary equivalent of a stop sign. It tells your readers to make a FULL STOP at the line before they continue! Periods are used at the end of complete thoughts. The Comma (,) The comma is more like a yield sign. It tells your readers to pause and look before reading further and eases traffic jams of information. Commas are used to separate different parts of the same thought, or for the purpose of listing. The Semicolon (;) My English teacher once told me that the semicolon is "like a wonderbra; it lifts and separates". (Notice how that sentence actually USES a semicolon?) However, in the interest of continuing our metaphor, we'll call it the traffic light of punctuation. It breaks up traffic and signals your reader to pause for an intersecting vehicle, so that both can reach the same destination smoothly. In other words, semicolons are used to separate two distinct yet related thoughts. The Ellipses (...) Now we're talking about the four-way stop sign of punctuation. Your readers might be waiting a bit longer here, until they have right-of-way. Think about how an ellipses looks; it's simply three periods in a row, right? Therefore, it's easy to think of it as a pause that is three times longer. Generally this is used for dramatic effect, and may actually be used within a sentence. The Colon (:) Let's think of the colon as a turn lane. It directs your readers to a very specific point. Colons are used to denote the beginning of a list, or simply to clarify the preceding thought. Having a good grasp of punctuation is just as vital to writing for an audience as knowing roadsigns is to being a traffic director. If you give your readers the wrong signals, there's going to be a collision, or they'll get lost and confused. For example, following the analogy of commas as yield signs: Imagine driving down a road with yield sign after yield sign, with no evident purpose. Slowing down, and then barely getting back up to speed before another sign comes along. I bet you can imagine how disorienting that would be! Conjunctions (and, but, so, for, yet, or/nor) are important for that very same reason. Imagine that the lines separating lanes on the road weren't there. There would be pileups and crashes and drivers going willy-nilly all over the place! Conjunctions provide connections between words that are necessary in order to present the correct context of a thought. I think you'll find that if you go have a firm grasp of punctuation, your prose will be a lot more pleasing to the eye and much easier to read!