Editing Course: Perfect Punctuation I

As today’s topic was extremely short, I decided to work through an extra topic. This topic covers the very basics of punctuation, however it has thrown my writing world upside down. I’ll write a separate post telling you why later.

7: Perfect Punctuation I

Important note: The notes below are to Australian standards and may not be considered correct elsewhere in the world.

The world is changing rapidly due to technology. Written letters was replaced with typed letters and now email has replaced typed letters to a large extent. However, email has also made us lazy. Many of us don’t check for errors and we rely heavily on spell checkers when writing email. Whilst this may be somewhat acceptable on the internet, it is not acceptable in printed material.

Punctuation – The Basics

The use of “&” and “and” – never use an ampersand (&) in place of the word “and”. No professional would ever do this. Only use an ampersand in business names and when referring to joint authors. Example: Mills & Boon, Baxter & Wood.

The apostrophe in “it’s” – only ever use “it’s” when it is the shortened (informal) form of “it is”. If you cannot replace “it’s” with “it is” do not include the apostrophe. Example: It’s a beautiful day.

Spaces between sentences – the standard is to use one space between sentences. The change from two spaces to one space took affect around the same time open punctuation (see below) was adopted.

Open Punctuation

The word “punctuation” comes from the Latin word punctus, meaning “point”, and until about the sixteen century the English word for punctuation was “pointing”. The punctus (.) is the ancestor for our modern “period” or full stop.

Ancient Roman text used no punctuation, ie no full stops or spaces between words or sentences. It must have been very difficult to read. Eventually punctus and spaces were introduced to make reading easier.

Ancient Greek manuscripts separated blocks of text with a horizontal line called a “paragrahos” and that’s where the term paragraph originates from.

Around the eleventh century the hyphen (-) was introduced to show a word was continued on the next line. They used the hyphen anywhere in the word.

“Layout”, separating blocks of text and using indentation etc, was introduced in the Middle Ages (around the fourteenth century).

Up until the 1980 and 90s it was standard practice to use full punctuation in everything. This was referred to as “closed punctuation” and it meant documents were heavily punctuated.

By about the year 2000 “closed punctuation” had become old fashioned and was replaced by a new standard, “open punctuation”.


Closed Punctuation Open Punctuation
Mr. John R. Citizen,
Great Publishing Pty. Ltd.,
Suite 101,
23 Crest Street,
Sydney, N.S.W. 2000.
Mr John R Citizen
Great Publishing Pty Ltd
Suite 101
23 Crest Street
Sydney NSW 2000

Keep in mind though that if a business name is registered with full stops then that is how it should be typeset on letterheads etc and that’s how it should be typed, especially for legal documents. This is also true for “Pty Ltd”. If the registered business name is Great Publishing Pty. Limited then that is how it should be typed. These are things an editor needs to check.

Open punctuation is also the standard use in body test. Only use commas where needed for correct use or clarification.


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