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Capstone Multilingual Writing Tips: Blog

February 2019: Punctuation Patterns

by Paul Lai on 2019-01-31T17:28:00-06:00 | 0 Comments

When revising and proofreading your capstone document, be sure to check for the correct use of punctuation. Missing or misused punctuation can cause the reader confusion. Some punctuation rules are specific to American academic English, and some rules are specific to APA guidelines. Below is a list of some of the most common types of punctuation patterns in American English. Before examining the list, however, it is important to keep a couple of definitions in mind:

  • Independent clause: An independent clause can stand alone as a sentence. It contains a subject and a verb and is a complete idea.
  • Dependent clause: A dependent clause (or subordinate clause) also contains a subject and a verb but is not a complete sentence by itself. It must be attached to an independent clause.

Here are some examples of independent and dependent clauses:

Independent clauses:

  • I used a phenomenological research design.
  • Participants described their perceptions.
  • Data obtained from the face-to-face interviews revealed participants’ lived experiences.

Dependent clauses:

  • Because I used a phenomenological research design…
  • When participants described their perceptions…
  • … so that interviewees could verify the accuracy of my interpretations.

It is necessary to be able to identify independent and dependent clauses to determine the correct punctuation in the sentence. Once you understand the definitions above, check your writing against this list of common punctuation patterns in American academic English:

  1. Independent clause.
    • This is an example of a complete sentence.
    • Employee turnover is expensive.
    • I employed a qualitative, multiple case study design.
  1. Independent clause; independent clause.
    • Inserting a semicolon between independent clauses creates a grammatically correct sentence; using a semicolon is a stylistic choice that establishes a close relationship between the two sentences.
    • Participants could leave the study at any time; they needed to indicate their preference.
    • The theory of planned behavior illustrates that behavior can be deliberate and planned; the theory helps explain an individual’s ability to exert self-control over his or her behavior.
  1. Independent clause; conjunctive adverb, independent clause.
    • This structure joins two independent clauses; moreover, it creates cohesion in the text by showing how one idea relates to another.
    • I had difficulty obtaining a large number of participants; however, I still reached saturation in the interviews.
    • The results of the study were inconclusive; therefore, more research needs to be done on the topic.

Some conjunctive adverbs are however, therefore, nevertheless, consequently, furthermore, moreover....

  1. Independent clause, coordinating conjunction independent clause.
    • Two independent clauses can also be joined by a coordinating conjunction, and you may have heard of the term FANBOYS (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) to help remember this list.
    • Employee turnover is expensive, so it is necessary to explore strategies managers use to maintain a low rate of turnover.
    • Participants could leave the study at any time, but they needed to indicate their preference.
  1. Clause, phrase, or word, nonessential clause, phrase, or word, clause, phrase, or word.
    • Extra clauses or phrases, however, can be removed from the sentence.
    • The hypothesis, which I tested throughout the research, was rejected.
    • Minneapolis, which has a population of about 400,000, is the largest city in Minnesota.

To test that the punctuation is correct here, remove the information between the commas and check that there are still complete and logical sentences. For instance,

  • Extra clauses or phrases can be removed from the sentence.
  • The hypothesis was rejected.
  • Minneapolis is the largest city in Minnesota.
  1. Subordinating conjunction dependent clause, independent clause.
    • If you use this sentence structure, place a comma after the dependent clause.
    • Because employee turnover is expensive, it is necessary to explore strategies managers use to maintain a low rate of turnover.
    • Even though I conducted semistructured interviews with managers, I also used other company documents to help answer my research questions.

Some examples of subordinating conjunctions are if, because, since, when, although, while, after...

  1. Independent clause subordinating conjunction independent clause
    • There is no comma here since the dependent clause follows the independent clause.
    • It is necessary to explore strategies managers use to maintain a low rate of turnover because employee turnover is expensive.
    • I used company documents to help answer my research questions even though I conducted semistructured interviews with managers.
  1. Independent clause: A, B, and/or C.
    • Here are two rules combined: Use a colon after a complete sentence to signal when what comes next is directly related to the previous sentence. Use a serial comma when there is a list or three or more items with and/or.
    • The study’s population consisted of the following groups: students, faculty, and staff.
    • I considered three approaches: qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods.

A couple of other quick rules to keep in mind here: In APA, capitalize the word after a colon if it begins a complete sentence. Additionally, the serial comma (sometimes known as the Oxford comma) is required in APA. This comma is not always used in newspapers, magazines, or in British English. Therefore, writers often miss this comma rule when writing in APA.

  1. The author (year) claimed that “xxxxx” (p. x).
    The author (year) claimed, “Xxxxx” (p. x).
    • Herrington (2019) emphasized that “if the quotation fits in as part of the sentence, like in this example, the first word is not capitalized” (p. 1).
    • However, Herrington (2019) stated, “While this rule above helps for punctuation in a sentence with a direct quote, it is important to remember that APA prefers the use of paraphrases instead. Use direct quotes sparingly, if at all” (p. 2).
    • In academic writing, “avoid beginning sentences with direct quotations; instead, place the direct quotation in the middle or end of the sentence” (Herrington, 2019, p. 3).


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