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Punctuation was invented merely for the reader; it is the writer’s way to helping the reader to navigate through the intricate ideas in an essay. If used correctly, punctuation will add a polish, style, and readibility to a well-written essay. Punctuation is like waxing a car after you have washed and cleaned it.
For many, including native and non-native speakers of American English, punctuation seems about as easily understood as the origins of the universe. Dumbfounded, many writers avoid using certain punctuation marks: commas ( , ), semi-colons ( ; ), colons ( : ), and dashes ( – ); however, this avoidance prevents them from using advanced sentence structures. Other writers use too many punctuation marks, especially commas, and disrupt the basic structure of the sentence. Whatever the case, if you do not have a good understanding of punctuation, your TOEFL iBT writing and reading scores will suffer.
So, what is the great mystery surrounding punctuation? First, punctuation rules differ across languages. Second, punctuation rules in American English change frequently, thus making it difficult for learners to stay current. It seems that the current trend regarding commas is “less is more,” meaning that the fewer commas used, the better. Finally, in some cases, using punctuation such as commas is optional.
And let’s be honest. You must get control of punctuation or the TOEFL iBT human raters will control you–perhaps giving you an undesired score. Therefore, how do you figure all this out?
For starters, re-read this post and identify the different punctuation marks used. For example, if you find a semi-colon, why did I use it? Then read other reading passages to see how punctuation is used and imitate these patterns in your writing. Practice makes perfect!
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