Punctuation can radically alter the meaning of a sentence so it is essential that commas are placed in the correct position. Consider the following:

  • a) The buffet offered a wide variety of sandwiches. I had ham and mustard, peanut butter, jam and beef.
  • b) The buffet offered a wide variety of sandwiches. I had ham and mustard, peanut butter, jam, and beef.

Example a) suggests that there was a sandwich consisting of jam and beef whereas it is clear from the second example that these were different sandwiches.

  • c) On Monday we walked, skied and drank mulled wine.
  • d) On Monday we walked, skied, and drank mulled wine.

Example c) implies that we drank mulled wine while we were actually skiing.

The semicolon (;) and the colon (:) are different punctuation marks which are not interchangeable. A semicolon may be used to link two closely related sentences whereas a colon may be used to show that a list or example follows. Here are some examples:

Technical report writing is an important skill to develop; it will be used during undergraduate studies and undoubtedly be required after graduation.

For this workshop you will receive the following materials: Technical Report Writing Handout (Kelt, 2011), Writing Reports study advice sheet (Glasgow Caledonian University, 2013) and a suggested reading list.

Take care not to write fragments, that is, incomplete sentences that do not tell the reader anything. However, long sentences are not only difficult to understand, they are also more difficult to write correctly. Long sentences most often contain incorrect use of pronouns, tense changes and punctuation errors. Too many very short sentences may result in stilted text that does not flow. It is best to aim for medium length sentences interspersed with occasional short sentences to add impact to what you are telling the reader.

Remember to check the guidelines for your piece of writing - either on GCULearn or the journal's instructions for authors. further help is available from your Learning Development Centre.