Practical tools for improving text flow: focus on punctuation

METM 06, Barcelona
27-28 October 2006

Friday 27, 16:00-19:00, Room 5


The basic syntax is sound. The terminology is correct. Overall, the text is coherent. But, for some reason it still doesn’t flow. It’s time to do a punctuation check. This workshop looks at punctuation as a tool that removes ambiguity, provides balance, and improves flow. The emphasis is on using these syntactic signposts to solve dilemmas raised by poor punctuation and provide clear, reader-friendly texts.

Purpose | Description | Structure | Who should attend? | Outcome skills | Pre-meeting information


Thomas O'Boyle with Mary Ellen Kerans
Thomas O'Boyle (about Thomas)


To create awareness of the role of punctuation in improving flow. To gain insight into the variety of editing solutions that can fix problematic prose. 


Punctuation is much more than familiar symbols in a text. It is a tool to help editors organize discourse in such a way that reader effort is minimized. This workshop will briefly review the syntax-based punctuation rules of English before examining punctuation in terms of a hierarchy that allows us to solve a variety of punctuation problems. This hierarchy will examine how there is often a difference between what the rules of punctuation say and what common usage and the constraints of syntax and cohesion allow. The role of style guides and their possible inconsistencies will also be discussed, in an attempt to draw conclusions that will enable editors to make informed decisions.


The workshop will be divided into two parts: an interactive presentation looking at the most common punctuation marks and examples of misuse; and a hands-on section during which participants will work with hardcopy containing problems faced daily by editors. We will briefly review the syntax-based punctuation rules of English—including a look at em- and en-dashes vs hyphens—and point you toward good references for modern rules


Who should attend
Editors and translators at any level can benefit from the exchange of knowledge among peers in this session. Most of the material used—not all—is medical and scientific and, while it will be most familiar to those working mainly with such texts, the principles described will be of interest to editors or translators working in other fields.


Outcome skills
Participants will be able to recognize good use and poor use of common punctuation marks—in terms of how punctuation either enhances or interferes with readability and good flow of information. After the workshop, participants will be able to explain the reasons for their evaluation of different editing alternatives. They will be able to make decisions based on style-guide recommendations and common sense.


Pre-meeting information
Punctuation can fascinate.

Are you familiar with Lynn Truss’s best-selling book on punctuation? If not, click here to enjoy a hilarious excerpt from Eats, Shoots and Leaves.

If you have children around 9 to 12 years old who write in English, try Truss’s punctuation game ( You may not agree with all the answers—we don’t—but it’s fun and it starts you thinking about why and how you do or don’t use a punctuation mark.

About the facilator

Thomas O'Boyle is a freelance translator, editor and language facilitator based in Madrid. His MA, from University of Salford, is in Translating and Interpreting.