Putting in all the STOPS

Please Note: This article first appeared in RWA’s official monthly newsletter, Hearts Talk, in January, 2009. Due to the passage of time, some information in the article may no longer be relevant.

Writers use writing to reveal the stories in their minds. Each writer, myself included, has their own style of writing, the words we choose and the order in which we put them together in phrases, sentences or paragraphs, making the stories distinctively our own.

But is a unique, individual style always effective? No. Sometimes readers find what they read confusing and ambiguous, and often what we writers intend is misunderstood.

To avoid this, as well as utilising their own styles, writers need to use ‘good writing’. ‘Good writing’ is clear, using the right words arranged in grammatically correct sentences. It is concise, using a mix of both short and longer sentences to add variety and improve the flow. It follows written style conventions such as spelling and punctuation.

One aspect of punctuation I’d like to discuss here is the full stop (British English) or period (American Eng- lish). A full stop, a small dot, is the simplest of punctuation marks. It can be used in a variety of ways: 

To represent the end of a sentence that is not a question or exclamation, whether the sentence is a single word or a line of text. Examples:

  • “Wonderful.”
  • Harlequin Enterprises is the largest publisher of romance novels.

Where a sentence is a question or an exclamation, a full stop is not required. Examples:

  • Is Harlequin Enterprises the largest publisher of romance novels?
  • Nora Roberts is speaking at our conference! 

To Indicate Abbreviations

Conventions for abbreviations differ occasionally between American and British English.

For titles, full stops are included in American English whereas in British English full stops are omitted. Example:

  • Mr. for Mister / Dr. for Doctor (American English) 
  • Mr for Mister / Dr for Doctor (British English)

Abbreviations made up of lower case letters only or with an initial capital tend to have full stops:
Example:

  • a.m. / p.m. / e.g. / i.e. / etc. / Thurs. / Feb.

For abbreviations made up of more than one capital letter or of capital letters only, full stops are included in Amer can English and omitted in British English.
Example:

  • U.S.A. / U.K. ( American English) USA / UK (British English)

Where a sentence ends with an abbreviation, a full stop is not added immediately following the full stop that ends the abbreviation. For example:

  • Sue’s meeting with John was set for 8 a.m.

When using multiple abbreviations in the same sentence, be consistent with the use of full stops.
Example:

  • Nickelback will tour USA and UK in 2009. – correct
  • Nickelback will tour U.S.A. and U.K. in 2009 – correct
  • Nickelback will tour USA and U.K. in 2009 – incorrect

Use with Quotation Marks

If the full stop is part of a quotation, place it inside the quotation marks. Example:

  • Nora Roberts said, “You can fix a bad page but you can’t fix a blank page.”

If the full stop is part of the sentence, place it outside the quotation marks. Example:

  • The words Nora Roberts said were, “You can fix a bad page but you can’t fix a blank page”.

Spacing following a full stop

It is not necessary to increase the amount of spacing after a full stop or other punctuation mark at the end of a sentence. A normal single word space between the full stop and the following capital letter of the word beginning the next sentence will indicate the next sentence.

Ellipses (three dots)
The ellipsis mark is made up of three equally spaced full stops. It is used to indicate that part of a sentence or text has been left out.
Example:

  • Transfixed by his gaze, she wished…Oh, she wished…

Just as it is useful to know when to use full stops, it is also useful to know when not to use them. These instances include:

Contractions

A contraction is the shortened form of a word that consists of the first and last letter.
Example:

  • Pty / Dept

Acronyms

Acronyms are shortened forms always pronounced as words.
Example:

  • ANZAC; NATO; UNICEF

The full stop is just one component of punctuation but knowing how to use it correctly gives clarity to our writing. As I’ve stated above, if you have clarity you have good writing.

Enisa Hasic, founding member of RWA, 2008 Valerie Parv Award 2nd Place winner and ‘grammar and punctuation critic’ of her writers group, writes romantic suspense. 

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5 Comments

  1. Sandy,
    Thanks for reposting this great article from Enisa.
    Suzi

    Reply
    • Hey, Suzi! You’re always such a great supporter of the RWA blog. Thanks 🙂

      Enisa (the grammar guru) has kindly given her permission to run other articles she’s written. One I have in mind is the em- and en-dash. Think I can fit that in around July.

      Reply
  2. I think I am just a little bit in love with Enisa. My grammar and syntax are pretty good from a lifetime of reading and familial good example, but the nitty gritty of punctuation sometimes stymies me. And when that happens, I look to the east and there is Enisa, Gandalf-like, on Shadowfax, bringing me relief. Bless her gramatically perfect socks and bless Sandy and all the blog goddesses for making her wisdom available to us (and try to overlook, Sandy, that, in my analogy, that probably makes you Shadowfax ;)).

    Reply
  3. No problem, Imelda 🙂

    I have no objection to being likened to, arguably, the most beautiful creature to have ever graced the Earth – fictional or fact!

    Reply

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