Guide to Punctuation

IELTS Writing Test

By Gordon Brown

Simple Guide to Punctuation for IELTS Writing

Correct punctuation is crucial for successful academic writing. By learning to use more, or all, of the available forms of punctuation you will be able to communicate and express your ideas, and arguments, more clearly. Many students’ essays use little punctuation beyond commas and full stops. The Table below will help you to understand punctuation in an easy way.
Full Stop (.)

Full stops have three distinct uses:
To mark the end of a sentence – Example: The cat is completely black.​
To indicate abbreviated words (unless first and last letters of the word are shown) – Example: The teacher will be John Smith (B. Sci.).
To punctuate numbers and dates – Example: All assignments should be submitted by 06.06.2020.

Comma (,)

Commas are used in longer sentences to separate information into readable units. A single comma ensures correct reading of a sentence which starts with a long introductory element.
Example: When Australia celebrated its sesquicentenary in 1938, there was a little of the confidence or enthusiasm of the centennial celebrations of 1888.

Pairs of commas help in the middle of a sentence to set off any string of words which is either a parenthesis, or in contrast, to whatever went before.
Example: Yet in representing ourselves to ourselves, as film and television and television do, these media are constantly introducing and reinforcing the assumptions.

Sets of comma act as a means of separating items in a list
Example: Ward traced the origins of the type through the common man’s response to the bush, through convicts, outback workers, gold diggers, trade unions, and the Bulletin.

Colon (:)

A colon can be used to indicate that a list, quotation or summary is about to follow.
Example: Buy these things: a packet of peanuts, two loaves of bread and a kilogram of steak.

A colon can also be used to separate an initial sentence/clause from a second clause, list, phrase or quotation that supports the first in a particular way.
Example 1: Writing an assignment is not easy: to begin with you have to do a lot of research.
Example 2: The Television set, as the icon of the information age, represents the realisation of a dream for humankind: that knowledge and experience can be transmitted and shared across the boundaries of time and space.

Semi-Colon (;)

Separates two complete sentences that are, however, closely linked. The semi-colon can be replaced by a full stop, but the direct link between the two parts is lost.
To err is human; to forgive, divine.
Don’t go near the lions; they could bite you.

A semi-colon also serves as a second level of punctuation in a series of words or phrases which already have commas, making some internal divisions.
Example: She came out of the house, which had a long drive, and saw him at the end of the path; but instead of continuing towards him, she hid until she left.

Questions Mark (?)
A question mark is used at the end of a sentence which is a question. Example: Have the students completed the exam?
Apostrophe (‘)

There are two uses for the apostrophe:
1) Contractions – A contraction is a shortened version of a word. An apostrophe is used to show that something has been left out, and where it has been left out.
dont (do not)
It’ll (It will)
shell (she will)
It’s too cold to go swimming today.
I don’t think she’ll come to the party.

2) Possessives – An apostrophe is used to indicate ownership/ possession with nouns. To show ownership by a single individual, insert the apostrophe between the noun and the ‘s’. To show ownership by more than one individual, use the apostrophe at the end of the word. Be careful: It’s is the contraction of ‘it is’. It’s is not a possessive (a possessive denotes ownership).
the dog’s tail (belonging to a single dog)
the women’s magazines
boys’ football boots (belonging to more than one boy)
Einstein’s theory of relativity The dog is chasing its own tail!

Hyphen (-)

When used correctly, a hyphen links two or more words, that normally would not be placed together, in order that they work as one idea and these are called compound nouns.

Stonier’s post-industrial economy is a service economy.
There are four types of information-related machines.

Dashes (—)

Dashes are not the same as  Hyphens. Dashes are like brackets; they enclose extra information.  A colon and semi-colon would work just as well in the example given below. Dashes are used less frequently in academic writing. Although often used in pairs, dashes can also be used singularly.

To the three divisions of the economy—agriculture, manufacturing, and service industries—Jones has added a fourth.
Have an orange—or would you prefer a banana?
While the importance of sport to Pay TV is clear, the opposite perspective is less certain—the importance of Pay TV to sport.

Parentheses ( )

Parentheses are brackets used to include extra or nonessential material in sentences. Parentheses should be used sparingly and always appear in pairs.
Example: It was unusual to see Paul awake so early (as he often studied late into the night) and Jane greeted him with amazement.

In citation systems like Harvard, parentheses are used to include in-text references.
Larsen and Greene (1989) studied the effects of pollution in three major cities.
“Australia is a settler society” (Hudson & Bolton 1997, p. 9).

Exclamation Mark (!)

An exclamation mark is used at the end of a sentence and indicates surprise, anger, or alarm. Exclamation marks should be used very sparingly and are not often used in academic writing. Example – The police stormed in and arrested her! How disgraceful!

Ellipsis ( … )

An ellipsis consists or three full stops. It indicates that material have been left out of a quotation. When quoting, it is sometimes necessary to leave out words or lines for reasons of relevance or length. Using an ellipsis makes any omissions known to your reader.
Example: “But to be restricted to just two forms of punctuation mark … is like building a house using only a hammer and a saw: you can do it; but not very well.”

How to improve Grammar Skills

Different methods to improve your English grammar and avoid common grammar mistakes:

  • Read in English: The more you read, the more you know about grammar and vocabulary. Reading helps you see how English works and grammar works. As a result, that knowledge can transfer to writing. Plus, it can help with your Reading test also. Find some sources that you like – books, newspapers – it doesn’t matter, as long as it’s in correct English. Specificaaly for IELTS, read our sample answers to Task-1 Academic, Task-1 General and Task-2 questions. 
  • Write more in English: Try keeping a diary or journal in English. Any practice can help you. Write more, and you will discover more common grammar mistakes you make.
  • Subscribe IELTS Writing Correction Service: Practicing without feedback will not result in much improvement. The best way is to buy a writing correction service for IELTS, so that you get detailed feedback on your answers and mistakes. This was you can improve much faster. See our affordable writing correction service for academic and general IELTS. 

Practice Makes Perfect
Practicing your writing as much as possible will help, but unless you review your work or get a teacher to check it, then you are basically going to make the same mistakes over and over again. What to do? Write – read – correct- write – read – correct. Once you have finished writing a paragraph, go back and read it again before writing more.

Courses to improve your Grammar & Writing

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