Punctuation in Academic Writing

Updated: Apr 25

Academic Writing employs the more formal and objective style of English. From its definition, we can tell that there are specific rules that should be followed for one to get a good grade. Along with the set grammar rules that tutors take into consideration as they evaluate your tests and assignments, some specific punctuation guidelines should be followed when tackling dissertations, research proposals, surveys, case studies as well as other types of academic writings.

1. Exclamation marks and question marks

Exclamation marks are used to demonstrate a writer’s attitude towards the content they have written down. Academic writing is based on the introduction of scientific evidence that is collected from bare facts and proven data, not the opinions that the writer has towards them. An exclamation mark is not a mistake by any means, but they undermine the objectivity of your essay. You should not use them in any type of academic writing.

The same can be said of question marks. A writer can add some questions to the conclusion just to make their research or survey more interesting. Rhetorical questions should despite their greatness as a means of oral discourse never find their way into any type of formal writing.

Simply put, all punctuation marks that might bring forth any emotions should be replaced with full stops.

2. Full stops

Sentences in academic essays are usually longer than other sentences used in regular and creative writings. The use of long phrases without the inclusion of proper division does not simplify the reading process. The use of transition phrases such as however, moreover, etc, right after a full stop ends up making the entire essay more fluent, coherent and logical than the very long unpunctuated sentences. You should, however, aim to create a decent balance between the long and short sentences in your essay, in a bid to make it interesting and more readable.

3. Dots

Some scholars use dots right after abbreviations such as Mr., Mrs., or Ph.D., but some do not. Neither of the two options is better than the other. It is however recommended that in the use of punctuation marks in which there is ambiguous regulation that you stay consistent. You should, therefore, choose which rules you will uphold, and follow it throughout the entire piece of text.


Commas are the most commonly used punctuation mark, and therefore many rules surrounding their application. Amongst all those rules, there are two which stand out, and that protects the student from committing frequent mistakes when doing their homework. These include:

- You should not use the comma to put together two simple sentences. If you are looking for a way to join two clauses that are independent into one sentence, then you should rely on conjunction such as and, but, and a comma. In some cases, you might be accused of committing an error called a comma splice, hence you should be quite careful about how you join the two sentences.

- You should never use a comma before that. You can, however, use it right before relative pronouns such as which, who, where, and when.


You can rely on semicolons if you want to make a connection between some points. It makes the ideas in the points to be closely interlinked than when those independent clauses are divided by full stops. When writing an essay, you can use semicolons right before transition phrases to make the piece of writing look more academic. You should, however, use the semicolons in moderation, since overusing them as you try to create a connection between several points can affect the readability of your essay.

6. Colons and dashes

Colons are quite welcome in academic writings, owing to their usefulness in the creation of lists. Dashes, on the other hand, are useful in the creation of emphasis on particular notions in one’s piece of writing. They also contribute to one’s paper appearing better as well. You should avoid mixing dashes with hyphens (these are only used in compound words and phrases).

7. Brackets

In most cases, brackets are not necessary for academic writings and should be avoided whenever one is capable of doing so. By using brackets, you end up showing how the information held in them is barely important in comparison to the rest of the text. As a rule of thumb, you should not present data that is less important or unimportant to any academic writings. The bottom line, you should avoid using brackets.

8. Punctuation for in-text citations

Different formatting styles use different punctuation marks to indicate the sources used in the in-text citations. In MLA, for instance, one is required to indicate the author or the source of text and the page numbers without placing a comma between the two, in the brackets coming right after the cited text.

E.g. ( Jonathan 20-23)

In APA, there is an author, year of publication, as well as the page number indicated by the letter p. right before the numeral.

E.g (Jonathan, 2014, p.13-18)

With the knowledge presented about the use of punctuation marks in academic writings, you are good to go. You may have to use a spellchecker to ensure that you detect and correct any misuse of punctuation marks. The proper use of punctuation marks will contribute to the quality of your grades. With help from the experts at Custom Essay Writing, you can achieve even better grades.

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