Monday, January 25, 2010

Editorial Tip of the Week: Let's Talk About Colons

Let's talk about the colon. No, not the digestive colon. The colon that is made up of two vertical dots for the purpose of introducing other elements that illustrate or amplify what precedes the colon. This type of colon can also be used in place of a period to introduce a series of related sentences. Or a colon can function as a semicolon between independent clauses to emphasize sequence.

The first word following a colon used within a sentence should be lowercase, unless of course it's a proper name. But when a colon introduces two or more sentences, the first word following the colon is capitalized.

Another creative and very practical use of the colon is to introduce speech in dialogue. (Notice the capitalization in this case.)
Michael: The incident has already been reported.
John: Then all is lost!

Similarly, colons are used for introductory phrases; a colon follows the identification of an address for formal speech or communication.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
To Whom It May Concern:

Colons are used commonly after words and phrases like the following, as follows, and other similar expressions. However, do not use a colon after the following words: namely, for example, and similar expressions.

Pretty straightforward, right? Insert colons before lists or to make introductions. And watch the capitalization. With that in mind, a colon is just as good as any other punctuation mark out there.

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