It is important to know which type of paper you are writing and which type of punctuation marks are appropriate to use. Having the wrong punctuation marks could take away from an important point that you are trying to make, but having the right ones might add emphasis to the point. I want to help make it clear when and how you should use certain punctuation marks.
Exclamation Point (!)
The exclamation point has one purpose, and that is to show exclamation. It allows the reader to feel excitement or alarm based on what it follows.
Example: Everyone must evacuate the building immediately! There is a fire!
These sentences would not have the same effect on the reader if they ended with periods. The exclamation point emphasizes that there is an emergency situation.
Example 1: Hi, Rob! It is so good to see you again, finally!
Example 2: Hi, Rob. It is so good to see you again, finally.
The first example shows that the author is excited to see Rob and that he or she is relieved that the wait is finally over. The second example has a sense of sarcasm or calmness, as if there wasn’t much urgency for the author to ever see Rob again.
Do not use exclamation points in research papers or other formal writing unless they are used in a quote. However, be cautious if you find exclamation points in reliable sources. Most scholarly journal articles and references will not have exclamation points included in them. This type of punctuation is most appropriate for informal writing styles (personal narratives and newspaper articles).
Lastly, never use an exclamation point more than once after a sentence, and never combine them with question marks or other forms of punctuation. Now that the use of instant messaging software, email, and text messages has taken precedence over other forms of writing, many people get confused about what is proper and what isn’t.
Incorrect: Karen told you what?!
It is only necessary to have one punctuation mark after a sentence. This example is obviously from a dialogue. It is unclear whether or not the sentence is a statement or a question. Another way to write this expression correctly is below.
Example: I can’t believe this! What did Karen tell you, exactly?
Incorrect: You make me so happy!!!
Using the exclamation point once is enough to show emphasis. It doesn’t need to be repeated in order to emphasize the expression.
Question Mark (?)
It should be clear that a question mark is used, well, after a question. If you need further explanation, refer to these tips provided by WhiteSmoke.
Commas are probably the most widely used punctuation mark. However, they are not always used correctly. The easiest tip to figure out when the best time to place a comma is whenever the reader should pause or take a breath in the middle of a sentence. Anytime a coordinating conjunction is used (and, but, yet, etc.), then a comma should also be used. Transition words should be followed by commas. When dialogue is expressed to a particular person or group of people, a comma should separate that object from the rest of the sentence. A common example is shown below.
Example 1: Let’s eat, Grandma!
Example 2: Let’s eat Grandma!
As you can see, the first example shows someone that is expressing interest in eating with his or her grandma. However, the second example is quite disturbing. Without the comma, it looks like the person is interested in actually eating grandma. One little mark can change the entire meaning of the sentence.
There are many appropriate uses for commas, but they are often used too frequently. For a quick guide to some proper uses of the comma, visit PurdueOWL.
An ellipsis (...) should generally only be used in quotations. For more information on this type of punctuation, see Texting vs. Writing.
See General Grammar Tips for help on proper use of semicolons and quotation marks, and another earlier post has help on the use of parentheses.