Heavy or Light Punctuation?

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Is "light" punctuation enough? A common question that many writers and web content providers might ask today. So first, let's establish just what we mean by "light" or "open" punctuation.

Well how about a written passage that contains little punctuation? Or a text sequence with little more than full stops and few if any commas. Heavy punctuation however, is the opposite: containing more punctuation — as many commas, colons and semicolons as the writer decides is sufficient to meet the goal of the sentence.

As the primary communicator, writer, speaker or website content producer, you must decide for yourself the type and depth of punctuation required in the piece that you're writing. To help you establish the right kind of punctuation for your publication, consider the following guidelines:

  • Punctuation is essentially nothing more than a collection of symbols or "flags" that we use as additional indicators, so why not use whatever you feel is necessary?
  • Not all readers may appreciate or care about the differences between say a comma and a semi-colon, however, I suggest most can appreciate that in the presence of a semi-colon, a longer pause is suggested or implied.
  • Sometimes, including or omitting even a single comma or inserting a comma in the wrong place within a sentence can change its entire meaning! So do be mindful when communicating important information or ideas.
  • Whether you choose "heavy" or "light" punctuation for your written piece, do get into the habit of applying punctuation with consideration.
  • The more you think about punctuation during your writing projects, the easier the process becomes and the better your judgment grows.
  • Arguably, many readers are more knowledgeable today than perhaps in previous decades — a reason often put forward to support the view why "light" punctuation is usually sufficient for most written materials. Why? The idea is based on the belief that today's reader can better identify the word-groups that the writer has created in order to understand the intended sentence meaning.
  • However, language can be incredibly flexible, complex and ornate and coming from a background in technical writing, the importance of clear meaning has tended to stick with me. That's why I don't believe light punctuation is necessarily sufficient in every instance. Every instance should be evaluated individually. There is no one simple answer to apply.
  • For non-fiction writing especially, check each sentence for clarity of meaning.
  • When writing fiction, sometimes, you may deliberately want to create hazy meanings. You may seek to foster doubt, confusion, double-standards, as you weave a plot to some kind of conclusion, or "cliff-hanger". Though to take part in your story, your writing must allow readers to be able to follow the general direction of where you're leading them, with each chapter end drip-fed with suspence and wonder
  • Key tip: I suggest that you ignore whatever current trend prevails and instead let your sentence meaning dictate how it is best punctuated.
  • Key tip: to help determine the best type of punctuation for a sentence, one way to ensure that you can best identify where the pause points should be and to make sense of the piece is to read your passage aloud.
  • Don't be afraid to add or remove commas, hyphens, semicolons and even colons where you think changes are necessary.
  • If necessary, break up, simplify and rewrite sentences to ensure your meaning is made clear, simple, unambiguous.

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