Style Guide

​​​Punctuation guidelines​

Ampersand (&)
Use when part of a formal name (Procter & Gamble). Otherwise, spell out (and).

Apostrophe (‘)
Do not use to make a word plural. Usages include denoting possession and making contractions.

Brackets ([ ])
Avoid if possible. Use parentheses instead.

Colon (:)
Use to introduce lists, add emphasis and in dialogue. IMPORTANT: A complete sentence or independent clause MUST come before the colon. Capitalize the first word after a colon only if it is a proper noun or the first word of a sentence.

​Comma (,)
Use commas to separate elements in a series, but do not put a comma before the conjunction in a simple series (also known as the Harvard, Oxford or serial comma). Example: The flag is red, white and blue. 

  • Exception: Use a comma before the conjunction in a complex series of phrases. Example: The school board’s biggest concerns are the impact of the state’s revenue projections, the expiration of federal stimulus dollars, and receiving less than flat funding from the county.

Dash (—)
There are two types of dashes: the en dash and the em dash.

  • En dashes (­–­) are longer than hyphens but shorter than traditional dashes, called em dashes. En dashes are used to indicate a range of numbers, dates, game scores, pages, etc. Example: Abraham Lincoln (1809–65) was president during the Civil War (1861–65). 
    • In Word, make an en dash by pressing CTRL and the hyphen (-) on your 10-key pad. On the Web, en dashes need to be coded, so you might choose to use a hyphen instead. Put spaces on both sides of an en dash only if it helps with line breaks.
  • Em dashes (—) are used to a) indicate an abrupt change in thought or an emphatic pause within a sentence, b) set off a parenthetical element that explains or amplifies, c) separate a noun or series of nouns from a clause summarizing them or d) denote an open range, such as a date range with no ending date. Example: The Three Stooges —Larry, Curly and Moe—sat down for dinner. Mary had a little lamb—not that she didn’t prefer a dog—whose fleece was white as snow. 
    • In Word, make an em dash by pressing CTRL+ALT and the hyphen (-) on your 10-key pad. On the Web, you should use two hyphens (--). Put spaces on both sides of an em dash only if it helps with line breaks.

Ellipsis (… )
In general, treat an ellipsis as a three-letter word, putting a space on both sides. 

Exclamation point (!)
Use sparingly, and never put more than one exclamation mark at the end of a sentence.

​parentheses ( ) 
Use sparingly. Parentheses are used for incidental material in a sentence. Try to re-write the passage, or use dashes instead.

period (.) 
Put only one space (not two!) between sentences. Here's why:

question mark (?) 
Supersedes the comma that is normally used when supplying attribution to a quotation. Example: “Who is there?” she asked.

quotation marks (“ ”)
Use quotation marks for the following purposes:

  • Identifying dir​ect quotations - Use single quotes to indicate quotes within quotes.
  • Defining word​s - When defining or introducing an unfamiliar word or phrase, put the word or phrase in quotation marks on the first reference only. Do not enclose a word or phrase in quotation marks when it is preceded by "so-called."
  • Referring to words and letters - Use quotation marks when referring to a word as a word or a letter as a letter. Example: the word “tranquil,” the letter “q.”
  • Expressing irony - Use sparingly. Example: My date’s car “accidentally” ran out of gas.
  • Setting off long modifiers - If a compound modifier is long or contains other punctuation that makes hyphenation unsightly (see hyphens), use quotation marks instead of hyphens. Example: It was cute for a while, but Jane’s “I’m from a small town” shtick got old quickly.
  • Setting off titles - See composition titles.
  • PunctuationIn general, place periods and commas inside quotation marks. Place semicolons outside quotation marks. Tuck question marks and exclamation points within quotation marks if they are part of the quote. Place them outside if they apply to the whole sentence. Example: The coach asked, “Are you ready to win?” What does it mean to be left “high and dry”?
semicolon (;)
In general, follow these guidelines:
  • To separate independent clauses (those that can stand alone as separate sentences) if they are not joined by a conjunction (such as "and" or "but"). Example: He is excited to see the Super Bowl; however, his team isn’t playing. She’s worried about driving the car on ice; it doesn’t have four-wheel drive.
  • To clarify a series - Use semicolons to separate elements of a series when the items in the series are long or when individual segments contain commas. Example: As a boy, he lived in Arkansas; as a teenager, he lived in Toronto; today, he lives in Florida.
  • Punctuation - Place semicolons outside quotation marks.