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© Ugur Akinci
Today let’s talk about the discipline of punctuation
Technical writing is nothing if it’s not about discipline, precision and consistency. That’s how tech writers impose order on disorder.
One of the most basic we impose that order on an otherwise unruly collection of information is the application of stringent punctuation rules.
When sentences and lists are punctuated in exactly the same manner, sentence after sentence, the mind subconsciously detects an order and submits to the superior logic of organization. Otherwise it rebels and questions first the credibility of the writer and then the veracity of the content. Such documentation is no good to anyone.
Big rule of thumb: establish your authority right away with consistent punctuation.
Decide in advance whether you’ll end your bulleted items with a period or not and stick to it. Both options are okay but ending one bulleted item with a period and leaving the other open is not acceptable. Soon the reader starts thinking: “this writer is not sure what she is doing.” You don’t want that.
In a technical document, every regular sentence should end either in a period or a question mark.
NO exclamation marks. Erase that from your tool kit and save it for your opinion pieces or poems.
Every abbreviation should be terminated with a period as in “etc.” or “p.m.”.
If you are using quotation marks, periods and commas should be placed right inside the second quotation mark.
When writing a “triplet,” place a comma after the second trip and before the “and.” For example: “The names in the database should be unique, relevant, and not longer than six characters.”
Use only a single space after colons, commas and periods. Most spell- and grammar-checkers will flag double-space as an error.
Use a hyphen to connect the adjective to the noun in compound expressions. For example: last-day sale (different from “last day-sale”); first-rate increase (different from “first rate-increase”); transport-calibrated transmitter (different from “transport calibrated-transmitter”).
Use a comma before “which” as in “Insert the CD into the slot, which is the first step in installation.” Or, “They had to call in a technician, which cost them $1,000 a day.”