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Edit Your Writing: How to Use Commas, Quotation Marks and Semicolons

Get it right, or scare people away.

Creating clean, mostly error-free content is important to freelance writers. Copy full of errors looks unprofessional and can really turn off potential customers. You don't want to be lumped in with noobs! Edit!

Emails, blogs and social media encourage speed over accuracy, lulling many into the feeling that close is good enough.  If you plan on being a successful freelance writer, though, almost isn't good enough. Here are some tips to help you get closer to perfection.

When to Use Commas

One of the most common problems even more skilled writers run into is how to use commas properly. A comma is defined as a punctuation mark used to indicate the  separation  of  ideas  or  elements  or  a  pause  in  a sentence.

The biggest misuse of commas is often overuse. When in doubt, use a comma when there is an audible pause while saying the sentence out loud.

For example:

Jan, can you write the story, please?

This sentence has definite pauses when said aloud. Proper use of commas also keeps the meaning of a sentence clear.

For example:

Wrong - Jan loves to draw fish and write.

Jan likes to draw fish?

Right - Jan loves to draw, fish and write.

Notice  that  a  comma  wasn’t used after  the  word “fish.”  It has become common to leave off the comma before “and” in a series, especially if you are writing for magazines or websites.

The last use of a comma is with a direct name or title.

For example:

The writer and artist, Jan, is my old friend.


Would you draw me a picture, Jan?


Jan Lang, Ph.D., is the author of some impressive articles.

punctuation edit


How to Mix Quotation Marks and Punctuation

Using punctuation with quotation marks isn’t the mystery some think it is. In fact, there are only two major rules to remember:

Always use punctuation inside the quotation marks.

For example:

“The article is finished. It only took a week to do.”


Jan said, “It only took a week.”

Also, always use a comma before or after a quote is introduced.

For example:

Jan said, “The article is finished.”


“The article is finished,” cried Jan.

“Said” in the first sentence tells you that  a  quote  is  coming  so  it  is  followed  by  a  comma.

In  the  second  sentence,  “cried  Jan”  tells  you  who  just made  the  quote.  In this case, there is a comma before “cried.”  Remember, the punctuation is always found inside the quotation marks.

editing quotes

When to Use a Semicolon

Semicolons   are   an   unloved   punctuation,   mostly because it is misunderstood.  If used correctly, though, semicolons are an easy way to spice up a writer’s prose, or at least show an editor that the writer is competent.

The rule to follow is: If there are two sentences that are complete thoughts and don’t have a conjunction, you can use a semicolon to join them.

For example:

Jan’s article is interesting; it is full of great quotes.

Sure,   you could   put   a   period   between   these two statements, but it sounds so much better with a   semicolon.   Basically,   a   semicolon   shows   a   close relationship between two sentences and a pause just a little shorter than a period, but longer than a comma.

Now  that  your copy  is treated with respect,  romance  will  be  on  the  way.  Your customers will undoubtedly fall in love with the work and you can ride off into the sunset with a check in-hand.


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