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 sixteenth 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 text. Only use commas where needed for correct use or clarification.

4 thoughts on “Editing Course: Perfect Punctuation I”

  1. Hello.

    I typed “closed punctuation in word fields” into Google and your blog piece was one of the results.

    I just wanted to know if you meant to type “Open punctuation is also the standard use in body test”, or “Open punctuation is also the standard use in body text”?

    I enjoyed reading an article from someone who understands that no matter the route the written word takes, it should always be respected and correct.

    I’m going to go look for some of your books now!

  2. Yes, I did mean ‘body text’, thanks for pointing that out to me. I’ve fixed it in the post now. 😀

    Thank you for dropping by and I hope you’ll drop by some other time when you have some time to spare.

  3. Hi, Karen.

    I’m preparing a pitch package for a novel I have taken many years to write. And as stupid as this might sound, I cannot find a category in which to put it. My novel is not romance, horror, gothic, science fiction, fantasy, ethnic, juvenile. If I call it mainstream, will it fall into an unwanted catch-all category? It has a little mystery, but that’s not the main theme. It has a little romance, which is also not the main theme.The book is contemporary and it deals with environmental issues.So, I was wondering if you have any suggestions for what category to use.

    Thank you,
    Beryl Shaw

  4. Hi Beryl

    Sometimes it can be extremely difficult to categorise a manuscript. I notice you say in your comment that mystery is not the main theme and romance is not the main theme … so my question is what is the main theme? Because that is your category.

    Many books have a little bit of many categories, but most of them have a theme that stands out more than the others. That’s the one you need to pinpoint.

    Maybe you’ve already answered the question when you said “contemporary”.

    Best of luck with the manuscript.


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