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The CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE suggests that there are two main schools
of punctuation. One, called "close punctuation," follows the
grammatical structure of the sentence more or less exactly. Currently,
punctuation is used more sparingly, with the idea that you punctuate
only to prevent the reader from misreading the text.
They don't discuss DRAMATIC punctuation. In advertising text, one
convention is that readers can't be expected to understand what
semicolons or colons are, so they aren't used at all. This (silly)
convention is ad copy is divided up into stubby non-sentences. And
punctuated. With a period. Rather than the proper punctuation. They
have only commas. Periods. And em-dashes to deal with.
In a less tortured sense, commas can be used for dramatic pauses and
slight emphasis. I do this all the time. (In fact, I overdo it, and
take half of them back out when I reread my work). Such usage is
perfectly legitimate (it falls into the category of "an author's style")
but it's not discussed much.
The two cardinal rules are: don't annoy the person writing the checks
unnecessarily, and don't mystify the reader. If your punctuation
passes smoothly under the eye of the reader, it works. Don't mess
Robert Plamondon * President/Managing Editor, High-Tech Technical Writing, Inc.
36475 Norton Creek Road * Blodgett * Oregon * 97326
robert -at- plamondon -dot- com * (541) 453-5841 * Fax: (541) 453-4139