punctuation for brevity and banality

by Renee
(St. John's, NL, Canada)

I do a fair bit of editing at work for researchers and students who write technical reports. My pet peeve is over-use of commas - I threaten to charge $1 per comma but nothing for periods to encourage shorter, less wordy sentences. (I have seen a sentence that ran 5 lines long.)

Your tips on pesky problems are entertaining and helpful. I found your comments on "that/which" especially informative. But, I think I found a comma splice in your tip on dangling modifiers:
"I put down my cup of tea, and then turned around."
Shouldn't there only be a comma if the words after "and" were an independent clause?

Another peeve is jargon - arguably a necessary evil in engineering reports. Regarding quote marks - is it okay to use quotes around the first instance of jargon? I usually use that to indicate an unusual use of a common English word or something you won't find in a dictionary (and insist it be defined in the first instance). If that's not proper use of quotes, could you suggest a more acceptable way to indicate jargon?

Warm regards,


Comments for punctuation for brevity and banality

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Mar 08, 2012
Scare quotes
by: Audrey

First of all, I love your idea of charging $1 for each extraneous comma. I could make a fortune! And it seems I'd be paying once in a while, too, as you discovered and kindly pointed out. Thanks to you, the world is now one comma less heavy.

As for how to use what are affectionately called scare quotes, let me give you my take on the issue.

Scare quotes show that a word or phrase is being used differently from the way it is normally used. Editors quibble a great deal about exactly when to use them and when to leave them out. I tend to leave the out unless the reader might be confused otherwise.

I generally try to avoid jargon. Where it is necessary, in many cases, the jargon is so entrenched among the readers that they don't even know it is considered jargon by the rest of the world. In this case again, I don't tend to use scare quotes.

The Chicago Manual of Style warns not to overuse scare quotes.

It comes down to knowing your audience and using punctuation to help your readers understand the meaning of the message.

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