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The following sections will help you understand and use different types of punctuation more effectively in your writing. This chapter begins with the comma, the punctuation mark which usually causes writers the most trouble, before turning to other types of punctuation.
The Comma
Comma usage is in some respects a question of personal writing style: some writers use commas liberally, while others prefer to use them sparingly. Most modern North American style guides now recommend using fewer commas rather than more, so when faced with the option of using a comma or not, you may find it wise to refrain.
The Semicolon
You will usually use the semicolon to link independent clauses not joined by a co-ordinating conjunction. Semicolons should join only those independent clauses that are closely related in meaning.
The Colon
Writers often confuse the colon with the semicolon, but their uses are entirely different.
End Punctuation
The punctuation marks that signal the end of a sentence are the period, the question mark and the exclamation mark.
Quotation Marks
The exact rules for quotation marks vary greatly from language to language and even from country to country within the English-speaking world. In North American usage, you should place double quotation marks (") before and after directly quoted material and words of dialogue:
The Apostrophe
You should use an apostrophe to form the possessive case of a noun or to show that you have left out letters in a contraction. Note that you should not generally use contractions in formal, academic writing.
The Dash
As noted in the section on commas, you can use a dash at the beginning and end of parenthetical information. Usually, you will use dashes when you want to emphasise the information, but you might also use them if the parenthetical information is too long or abrupt to be set off with commas.

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