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Summary: When speaking, we can pause or change the tone of our voices to indicate emphasis.
When writing, we use punctuation to indicate these places of emphases.
This handout should help to clarify when and how to use various marks of punctuation. Although there is no set rule that requires a comma before the last item in a series, it seems to be a general academic convention to include it. Use a comma to separate nonessential elements from a sentence.
Use a colon to join two independent clauses when you wish to emphasize the second clause.
In his Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln urges Americans to rededicate themselves to the unfinished work of the deceased soldiers: "It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.
To be safe, you could check with your teacher to find out which he/she prefers.
Italicize the titles of magazines, books, newspapers, academic journals, films, television shows, long poems, plays of three or more acts, operas, musical albums, works of art, websites, and individual trains, planes, or ships.
Use parentheses to set off nonessential material, such as dates, clarifying information, or sources, from a sentence.
In terms of public legitimacy—that is, in terms of garnering support from state legislators, parents, donors, and university administrators—English departments are primarily places where advanced literacy is taught. Note that commas and periods are placed inside the closing quotation mark, and colons and semicolons are placed outside.
Use a semicolon to join two independent clauses when the second clause begins with a conjunctive adverb (however, therefore, moreover, furthermore, thus, meanwhile, nonetheless, otherwise) or a transition (in fact, for example, that is, for instance, in addition, in other words, on the other hand, even so).
For more information on semicolons, please see the "90-Second Semicolon" vidcast series on the Purdue OWL You Tube Channel.