Well, it goes on, and on, and on . . . we faculty members of CES teach new students how to use correct punctuation. It is a sheer delight to us when students start submitting term papers without all of the normal errors.
Then new students enroll, and we have to teach it again.
To help both students and faculty, I have placed a few Coffee Talks on the CES web site that deal with various writing issues, and sometimes we can just refer students to these CTs.
In the last few days, I have personally had to deal with student papers that have had two recurring errors, and I figured that these were worth dealing with here. Ill even try to make this humorous so that it doesn't bore you.
The First Thing: The Comma in a Series
In academic writing (i.e., your term papers and work for CES), always place a comma after three or more words in a series, and before and or or.
Example: "Peter, James, and John were there."
Now, the AP (Associated Press) style does not use a comma after the coordinating conjunction in this particular construction.
AP Example: "Peter, James and John were there."
Some students who read this construction in their local newspapers or in popular magazines will question the accuracy of our rule, "Always place a comma after three or more words in a series, and before and or or ."
However, AP style is not academic style. Academic term papers, theses, and dissertations are not newspapers or magazine articles. Term papers, theses, and dissertations do not follow AP style; they follow academic style.
Once again: When you have a series of three or more elements, these elements must be separated by commas, and a comma must be placed before the coordinating conjunction.
Examples: "I bought bananas, apples, and pears." "Peter, James, and John were with Jesus."
Sometimes if the commas are not properly inserted, the outcome can be humorous. I dont know if it is true or not, but I heard of a dedication that someone had written in which the person wanted to thank his/her parents and God. The dedication said:
"To my parents Ayn Rand and God."
In this humorous illustration, the writer wanted to convey, "To my parents. And, to Ayn Rand. And, to God."
However, the lack of commas made it appear as though the person's parents were Ayn Rand and God.
It should have been written like this: "To my parents, Ayn Rand, and God."
In explaining to his coworker what sandwiches would be available at the office lunch meeting, someones memo said, We ordered BLT, peanut butter and tuna sandwiches."
Yuck! Give me the BLT because Ive never had a peanut butter and tuna sandwich, and that sounds awful.
So, please learn this: always place a comma after three or more words in a series, and before and or or.
We ordered BLT, peanut butter, and tuna sandwiches."
Quotation Marks Are Not for Emphasis The next error that seems to be ubiquitous is the idea that quotation marks are to be used to emphasize words. Theyre not. In fact, quotation marks are used (1) to indicate that words are being quoted, or often (2) they are used to indicate that a word is being used ironically, or even with opposite meaning.
I had an ongoing Instant Message with one of my students that will help make this point.
Carmen says: (11:34:55 AM)
Hey, are you there?
email@example.com says: (11:35:26 AM)
Yes, Im here. Hey, see if you can find the humor in this dialog:
Person 1: This was seen on an ice cream store awning (also painted on their windows) in Ashland, Oregon:
BJ's "home made" ice cream it taste "delicious."
It's true. I know it is because I bought some.
Person # 2: So, they actually make it in the back room of the store and it's yucky.
firstname.lastname@example.org says: (11:35:55 AM)
If you don't "get this" dialog, you need more study in "quotation" marks.
Carmen says: (11:39:37 AM)
Confused? Are you saying that the "home made" isn't appropriate?
email@example.com says: (11:41:02 AM)
Quotation marks are used to indicate that words are either being quoted or to indicate that the words are being used ironically. However, many people think that they are used for emphasis. Not so. It often makes a word mean nearly the opposite.
For example: My best friends wife is a "real beauty."
Which means, she's ugly.
Carmen says: (11:41:40 AM)
Okay, I get it. So, you are a "real genius."
firstname.lastname@example.org says: (11:42:07 AM)
"LOL" -- don't miss my quotation marks here.
Carmen says: (11:43:06 AM)
So, how is everything on your end?
email@example.com says: (11:43:22 AM)
Ok . . . I'm sipping on some really "hot" coffee that's been sitting on my desk for about three hours.
Carmen says: (11:44:29 AM)
Were my two term papers okay?
firstname.lastname@example.org says: (11:45:06 AM)
Papers were "great."
Carmen says: (11:45:58 AM)
Hey, give me a break.
email@example.com says: (11:46:38 AM)
Well, I hit the big 5-0 this year.
Carmen says: (11:46:56 AM)
When is your b-day?
firstname.lastname@example.org says: (11:47:04 AM)
9-3-04 -- I "love" getting older.
Carmen says: (11:47:49 AM)
You are a very "youthful" guy!
email@example.com says: (11:48:09 AM)
Yeah, and Im "cool" too.
Carmen says: (11:49:17 AM)
Hey, I bet your wife thinks you're "hot." By the way, my computer is going wacky. So, I may have to hang up soon.
firstname.lastname@example.org says: (11:49:41 AM)
Well, at least it's "not" you who is wacky.
Carmen says: (11:50:02 AM)
Well, that remains to be seen!
email@example.com says: (11:50:14 AM)
Don't miss my quotation marks.
Carmen says: (11:50:55 AM)
Hah! I missed that one. You are so "clever," Rick!
firstname.lastname@example.org says: (11:51:01 AM)
email@example.com says: (11:52:02 AM)
Well, so, go away already. I have "real work" to do.
Carmen says: (11:52:26 AM)
Going to play Pac Man, huh?
firstname.lastname@example.org says: (11:52:41 AM)
LOL . . .
Carmen says: (11:53:16 AM)
Don't forget to make copies of my "terrible" papers! See ya!
email@example.com says: (11:53:24 AM)
Carmen says: (11:53:42 AM)
No, I "know."
firstname.lastname@example.org says: (11:53:58 AM)
Little gitery eh?
Carmen says: (11:54:24 AM)
Is that how you spell gitery?