Monday, June 25, 2012

Grammar Monday: Colons

When I decided to start critiquing, and later do freelance editing, I realized I needed to hone my grammar and punctuation skill set. Unlike most people who set out to be writers, English was not my favorite subject in school. In fact, I have talked about how I repeated 9th grade English three times in high school. Not because I didn't understand the class, I just plan out hated English class and didn't go half the time.

I don't know about you, but I found learning the basic rules of English boring. However, here I am today much older and wiser with an understanding about how important it is to know the basic rules of grammar and punctuation when writing. Now I'm not saying you need to know all the ins and outs of grammar, style and punctuation. In fact, the rules do change from time to time and from publisher to publisher. But having a basic understanding will help you with your writing career.

One of the ways, besides going back to school to brush up on my English before beginning my writing career, I stay in the know and keep my grammar and punctuation up to speed is by subscribing to newsletters and blogs all about this craft. Yes, editing is a craft all its own outside of writing. This is why we have all different types of editors just like writers, and this skill needs to be honed just like your manuscript.

So this week let's talk about colons. Why colons? Because I see this misused just as much, if not more than commas. I think most of us don't really know when to use and not use a colon in our writing. I know I never really understood the real use of a colon outside of lists until I really started taking my writing career seriously. In fact, I don't think my English teachers really helped me understand its use in my writing or its true function. I hope today, I change that for you.

Punctuation Rules of Colons
1. You can use a colon after a complete sentence to introduce a list of items, however, you only do this when introductory words such as namely, for example, or that is do not appear before your list.

You may be required to bring many items: towel, bathing suit, sunscreen, water shoes and sunglasses
Can you get me the following items: butter, sugar and flour.     

2. You should never use a colon that precedes a list unless it follows a complete sentence; however, the colon is a style choice that some publications allow.

If a writer wants to make a good impression with a publisher, they should (a) join a critique group to hone their writing, (b) seek out a professional editor to examine their work before submitting, (c) research the publisher, and (d) read books by the publisher to understand their market.
Here are four ways a writer can make a good impression with a publisher:
(a) Join a critique group to hone their writing.
(b) Seek out a professional editor to examine their work before submitting.
(c) Research the publisher.

(d) Read books by the publisher to understand their market.

3. It is optional (and publisher choice) to use capitaliztion and punctuation when using single words or phrases in bulleted form. Basic rule: if each bullet or numbered point is a complete sentence, capitalize the first word and end each sentence with proper ending punctuation. Be consistent.

I want an editor who can do the following:
(a) look at story structure,
(b) correct grammar errors,
(c) suggest plot line points.

The following are requested:
(a) Cover letter with complete manuscript.
(b) 60 word bio, single spaces with contact information.
(c) SASE to mail reply.

The following are requested:
(a) cover letter with complete manuscript
(b) sixty word bio, single space with contact information
(c) SASE to mail reply

NOTE: With lists, you may use periods after numbers and letters instead of parentheses. 
4. A colon can be used instead of a semicolon between two sentences when the second sentence explains or illustrates the first sentence and no coordinating conjunction is being used to connect the sentences. If only one sentence follows the colon, do not capitalize the first word of the new sentence. If two or more sentences follow the colon, capitalize the first word of each sentence following.

I personally try to avoid using this in my own writing: most the time it is better just to break up the compound sentence to avoid wordy sentence structure.

5. When introducing a direct quotation that is more than three lines in length, use a colon. Leave a blank line above and below the quoted material and single space the long quotation. Some style manuals say to indent one-half inch on both the left and right margins; others say to indent only on the left margin. Quotation marks are not used.

The authors of "Essentials of English" Vincent F. Hopper, Cedric Gale, Ronald C. Foote and Benjamin W. Griffith wrote in the perface:
          Just as expert carpenters must be thoroughly acquainted with the tools of their craft, and as artist must have expert knowledge of colors, so good writers must have a through understanding of the basic material with which they work: words. Thoughts and utterances, both simple and complex, require words of several kinds--of example, words that perform the functions of naming, asserting, connecting, or describing. One of the first steps to effective writing is, therefore, a knowledge of the properties and functions of the different kinds of words. This knowledge involves what a word looks like, where it appears, ans what it does within its context.

6. A colon is used to follow the salutation of a business letter even when addressing someone by his/her first name. Never use a semicolon after a salutation. A comma is used after the salutation for personal correspondence only.

If you know any other rules for colons or would like to share some examples, please do. Together we can hone our grammar and punctuation skills.

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