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Writers often get a bit nervous around punctuation. This is because it is often presented as a set of scary, sometimes arbitrary rules. But punctuation is actually a really powerful tool. It can, for instance, help you to organise your ideas clearly, or focus the reader on a particular point.

(This section is adapted from Bottomley, 2021 .)

Sometimes, you need to use punctuation as part of the grammar and meaning of a text, i.e. you need to follow grammatical rules. For example, you must use a comma in a non-restrictive relative clause, otherwise, your meaning could be unclear or open to misinterpretation. However, at other times, you will have a choice about how to use punctuation. In such cases, it is not a case of a grammatical rule; it is rather a question of style and personal preference.

Therefore, in discussing punctuation here, we mention rules where necessary, but where it is a matter of style or preference, we rather make a case for how the use of commas, colons and semi-colons can help you to structure your sentences clearly and aid the flow of the text.

The examples in this section are taken from The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing (Dawkins, 2008), and represent, we believe, effective use of punctuation.

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Bottomley, J. (2021) Academic writing for international students of science. 2nd Edition. Routledge.

Dawkins, R. (2008) (ed) The Oxford book of modern science writing. Oxford University Press, pp 34, 41, 60, 88, 363.