Wick Communications

Guide to punctuation

In Writing on July 8, 2010 at 7:57 pm

I have picked up the AP Stylebook 5,600 times in my lifetime. OK, I sort of made that up. I multiplied the number of years since I first encountered it in journalism school (28) by 200, which is a very rough estimate of the number of times a year that I thumb through a copy.

And yet I didn’t know it had a guide to punctuation in the back of the thing. Maybe the guide is a fairly recent addition, I don’t know.

I discovered it last week while in Roanoke Rapids. News Editor Kris Smith and I were trying to figure out whether you really need a comma after an introductory phrase. (Things like “Beginning today, the Rotary Club will pass the hat.”) In this instance, the good book was kind of vague. It said you don’t need it if the meaning isn’t lost without it…

But the guide is a really good rule-of-thumb resource for reporters and editors looking for a quick reference. I can’t believe I didn’t know it was there.

I did know that the Associated Press publishes a “Guide to Punctuation” separately. It is invaluable. It’s a slim volume about the size of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style and, like that essential book, it’s really a zippy, fun read and chock full of stuff you need to know.

Whatever you do, please don’t be sloppy. Treat your commas, semi-colons and so forth as you do your words. Choose them carefully and be able to explain why you used what you did.

Clay

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