Category Archives: Punctuation

The art of art citations

The art of art citations

by Zoë Mahler

We all know that adding images to papers doesn’t impact the page number of our writing (and if you didn’t know that, then you’ve just received your first tip). That being said, as an art history major I have learned over the years the importance of correctly citing images in papers and all the mechanics that lead to a perfect citation.

I once wrote a paper for a 300-level art history course that included twelve different paintings by three separate Impressionist painters. It was a lot, and writing about all of them (while also making sure I wasn’t mixing any of them up) was quite the hassle.

Here are a few simple tips and tricks for properly citing images in an art history paper using the Chicago Manual Style. Let’s use the Mona Lisa as an example.

First things first: There are a few things to remember the very first time you mention an image. 1) Make sure you are presenting the reader with the full name of the piece, the artist, and the date of the painting. 2) Whenever you address the work of art, it must always be italicized: Mona Lisa. 3) Make sure to place (Figure 1) in parentheses after the image. This way, when you cite the images at the end of your paper, the reader can see which painting correlates to the writing. The only time you use (Figure 1) is after you introduce the painting the first time. For the rest of your paper, just call it by name, as with the Mona Lisa.

Bringing all these pointers together, here is an example of what the final product may look like:

In his 1503 painting, the Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci creates his own natural background behind the smiling woman to complement her color palette (Figure 1).

Now you are at the end of your paper: After your bibliography, insert a picture of the artwork into your Word document. All your artwork will be the final pieces in the order they appear in your document, starting with Figure 1.

But how and where do you cite these artworks? It’s pretty simple. The only place you need to cite your photos – unless it is something you saw in person for a gallery talk – is after the bibliography (as mentioned before). You do not cite photos of your artworks in your bibliography unless you went to the museum yourself and saw the painting firsthand. For this example, I obviously have not gone to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa, so the only place I am citing this photo is below the image. You can simply follow this format:

Format: Figure no. Title of Artwork, artist, date, name of gallery, City.

Example: Figure 1. Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci, 1503, the Louvre, Paris.

You will not always know where a painting is being held, and sometimes it may not even be on exhibit. Because of this, it’s okay if you only have the first three criteria.

Correctly citing your artworks or pictures in a paper not only lets the reader know what they should be looking at or imagining from your writing, but it also helps you categorize what you’re working on for your own benefit. If I hadn’t been establishing which figure was which while I was writing my paper, I probably would have gotten pretty confused from time to time. As long as you follow these guidelines, your paper should be a pristine work of art itself!


Zoë Mahler is a senior with an art history and mass communication double major, and a religion and sociology double minor. She spent her summer on a Principia Abroad program studying archaeology and prehistoric Neolithic temples in the United Kingdom and Malta.

Run-on sentences: Crossing the finish line

by Greta Johnson

I am one of the many students who are prone to writing run-on sentences. Many that I compose feel like a never-ending race with the finish line far down the track. So, when the professor of my WRIT 350 course assigned a group project to present a grammar lesson, my partner and I chose this topic. As the saying goes, “teaching is the best way of learning,” so I figured that I’d be able to fix this issue in my writing while informing others about it.

I used to think that I needed to write in more concise sentences to avoid run-ons. However, as I did further research, I realized that going back to the basics of what makes up a sentence is the key to avoiding writing run-ons. And there are multiple ways to fix run-ons besides writing shorter sentences.

Sentences must include the following: a subject, a verb, and an expression of a complete thought. If these are not clear to you in your writing, then you likely have a run-on sentence.

There are many ways to correct a run-on sentence, such as these:

  1. Use a comma and a FANBOYS (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) coordinating conjunction between two independent clauses (for more on these, see “Outrun those run-on sentences.”)
  2. Use a semicolon between independent clauses
  3. Separate the clauses into two independent clauses with a period
  4. Rewrite the sentence

My partner and I put these principles to the test when we had to create examples for our peers to practice. Here’s how we did it:

First, we created a run-on sentence like this one: The fog was thick he could not find his way home. Then, we corrected the run-on using the methods described above:

  1. The fog was thick so he could not find is way home (FANBOYS conjunction).
  2. The fog was thick; he could not find his way home (insert a semicolon between the independent clauses).
  3. The fog was thick. He could not find his way home (separate the independent clauses with a period).
  4. He could not find his way home due to the thick fog (rewrite the sentence).

Unfortunately, during our presentation our professor corrected one of the examples that I wrote (don’t worry, these ones are all correct J). I felt embarrassed at first, but soon brushed it off. I realized that I did not have to take on the role of an expert on the topic of run-on sentences and that this presentation was just as much of a learning experience for me as it was for the students watching.

From one developing writer to another, do not fret if you feel like your sentences run on and on down a track with a distant finish line. This line is actually closer than you think once you realize there are ways to draw it closer to you.


Greta Johnson is a sophomore double major in theatre and educational studies with a concentration in theory and practice. When she’s not doing homework – because she somehow has A LOT – she loves assisting tap dance classes in University City and being on the improv team on campus, Lazy Zipper.


Keep calm and comma on: Restrictive vs. nonrestrictive elements

by Marie Sherman

To use a comma or not to use a comma… that is the question! Well at least that’s something I often ask myself while writing. However, after reading more about commas on Writer’s Help, I have discovered some answers to share with any puzzled comma-users!

Commas are used in a variety of circumstances to break up different parts of a sentence and clarify its meaning. An important distinction to make when deciding whether or not to use a comma is in the case of word groups that describe nouns or pronouns. You must determine if the description of the noun or pronoun is necessary to the overall meaning of the sentence. If it is necessary, the description is referred to as a restrictive element. Otherwise it is an nonrestrictive element.


Because restrictive elements are the descriptions of a noun/pronouns that are essential to its meaning, they are used without commas.

Example 1: Writing tutors should ask students questions that allow them to think more deeply about the subject they are writing about.

In this sentence, the restrictive element is the description of the questions: “questions that allow [the students] to think more deeply about the subject they are writing about.” This description of the questions is essential to clarifying the meaning of the sentence, so commas are left out.

Example 2: J.K. Rowling’s book Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is my favourite.

Since J.K. Rowling wrote more than one book, it is essential to clarify which book I’m talking about.

Nonrestrictive elements are the opposite because their description of nouns or pronouns is not necessary to convey the overall meaning of the sentence. Therefore, non-restrictive elements are used with commas.        

Example 1: The writing tutor helped a number of students from the same class, who all needed help on a paper. 

The students, who are described in this sentence, “all needed help on a paper.”  If you took out this description, the meaning of the sentence wouldn’t change because the tutor would still be doing the action of helping the students. The description merely provides some extra detail.

Example 2: The second Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, is my favourite.

In this sentence, I have already clarified which Harry Potter book I’m talking about. Giving the title is just providing additional information.


Overall: If you are confused about whether a description of a noun/pronoun in a sentence requires commas, you can easily figure it out! Try removing the description from the sentence. If this changes the meaning of the sentence, or makes it unclear, it is a restrictive element. Don’t add commas! However, if the description doesn’t change the essence of the sentence, it is a non-restrictive element, so add commas!


Marie Sherman is a sophmore at Principia College studying education and global studies. When not writing, she is probably running around campus or dancing!

Easy as punctuation pie! (Part II)

by Haley Schabes

Part II: The six rules of the semicolon

Everyone knows that the semicolon can be tricky. It’s difficult to know when to use it instead of a comma or period. Many people avoid using it altogether. But these six quick rules should help clarify the basics of semicolon use, so you can see just how beneficial the semicolon really can be.

1. The two grammatical sentences, one on either side of the semicolon, should follow the same idea. There is a reason why the semicolon (;) is a period on top of a comma; it indicates a pause that is longer than a comma and shorter than a period. Therefore, semicolons can replace periods in order to shorten the stop between two sentences.  

Correct: Semicolons can replace periods in order to shorten the stop between two sentences; however, the two sentences should follow the same idea.

Incorrect: Semicolons can replace periods in order to shorten the stop between two sentences; however, the sky is blue.

2. Use a semicolon between two independent clauses. Do not use semicolons to separate a dependent clause. If you can’t put a period there, you can’t put a semicolon there.

Incorrect: Although I am busy; I made time for my friend.

Correct: Although I am busy, I made time for my friend.

Correct: I have a big test tomorrow. I need to make sure I study enough.

Correct: I have a big test tomorrow; I need to make sure I study enough.

3. Use a semicolon before words such as however, therefore, for instance, that is, for example, etc., when they introduce a complete sentence. Notice the placement of the comma as well.

Correct: He really likes to show his love for Beyoncé in many ways; for example, he will yell the lyrics of her songs when they play on the radio.

Incorrect: He really likes to show his love for Beyoncé in many ways, for example, he will yell the lyrics of her songs when they play on the radio.

4. The semicolon separates units in a series when one or more units contain commas:

Incorrect: On our abroad we visited Paris, France, London, England, and Venice, Italy.

Correct: On our abroad we visited Paris, France; London, England; and Venice, Italy.

5. The semicolon can be placed between two independent clauses joined by connector words such as and, or, but, not, etc., when one or more commas appear in the first clause.

Example: After I fell, my teacher approached me with worried eyes; but she didn’t ask if I was okay or if I needed help.

6. Do not capitalize words other than proper nouns after semicolons:

Incorrect: My favorite flavor of ice cream is chocolate; However, today I wanted to try their cookie dough flavor.

Correct: My favorite flavor of ice cream is chocolate; however, today I wanted to try their cookie dough flavor.

Haley Schabes is a senior majoring in business administration and minoring in education, economics, and Asian studies. Her current aspiration is to teach English abroad after college.

Easy as punctuation pie! (Part I)

by Haley Schabes

Part I: The forgotten rules of question marks

Do you truly know how to use the question mark? You may be surprised! Question marks can be surprisingly tricky. Check out these forgotten rules about using question marks (and exclamation points) in your papers:

  • Question marks are placed after direct questions, but not indirect ones.
    • Correct: Will you go with me?
    • Incorrect: I’m asking if you will go with me?
  • Use question marks if half of the sentence ends on a question statement.
    • Correct: You don’t care, do you?
    • Correct: You aren’t going to leave, right?
  • This one is tricky: Don’t use question marks for rhetorical questions. Rhetorical questions frequently denote sarcasm and are not asking for an answer in response; therefore they are not direct questions. (Find out more here.)
    • Correct: Why don’t you take a break.
    • Correct: How should I know.
    • Correct: Could I possibly love you more.
  • When a question is being asked in dialogue and is followed by attribution to a speaker, make sure the question mark replaces the usual comma.
    • Correct: “What’s your name?” she asked.
    • Incorrect: “What’s your name,” she asked.
    • Incorrect: “What’s your name,” she asked?
  • This is also true for exclamation points.
    • Correct: “Look out!” she yelled.
    • Incorrect: “Look out,” she yelled.
    • Incorrect: “Look out,” she yelled!
  • In quotes, if the whole sentence is a question, then the question mark is placed on the outside of the quotation marks. If the quote is the question, then it is placed on the inside. This is the same for exclamation points.
    • Correct: What do you think Steve Jobs meant when he said that “innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower”?
    • Correct: My favorite part of the movie A Few Good Men is when Jack Nicholson exclaims, “You can’t handle the truth!”

For more on quote integration, check out this blog post.

Final Tips:

  • Do not overuse question marks. Asking too many questions in a formal paper is unnecessary and detracts from the point of the paper.
  • Remember that using exclamation points is viewed as unprofessional and colloquial; refrain from using them in formal papers.
  • Do not overuse the exclamation point. It characterizes undeveloped and untrained writing.

Write on!

Haley Schabes is a senior majoring in business administration and minoring in education, economics, and Asian studies. Her current aspiration is to teach English abroad after college.

Apostrophe catastrophe

by Shannon Naylor

One little mark has never been so intimidating. Whether it’s popping up in places it doesn’t belong or disappearing from where it’s needed, the apostrophe can be tricky to use properly. Let’s break it down.

The apostrophe signals one of two things:

  1. There are letters missing. (This is called a contraction.)
  2. The writer is indicating possession, ownership.


Ex. I’m (I am), you’re (you are), he’s (he is), let’s (let us)

Contractions are most commonly used in verbal speech, but can appear in writing for a couple of different reasons. When writing dialogue, authors will generally use contractions as people do when they speak out loud. In other professional (but not formal) writing, writers may use contractions to create a laid back, conversational tone. Contractions are generally not appropriate in formal academic writing, so it is a good idea to edit them out of your papers.


The apostrophe is also used to indicate possession. It answers the question “who owns what?” Let’s say you’re describing a dog owned by your cousin. You could say:

The dog owned by my cousin is adorable.

The dog of my cousin is adorable.

But these sentences are kind of ugly. Let’s use a possessive apostrophe (‘s, also called the genitive case) to make this cleaner.

My cousin’s dog is adorable.

To indicate an owner in the form of a singular noun, add ‘s to the end of the word. (This is what we saw above.)

The dog owned by my cousin becomes my cousin’s dog.

To indicate an owner in the form of a plural noun that ends in s, add just the apostrophe after the s.

The dog owned by my cousins becomes my cousins dog.

To indicate an owner in the form of a plural noun that doesn’t end in s, add ‘s.

The dog owned by the children becomes the children’s dog.

For help with some more complex possessive rules, check out Compound possession: Whose is what?

Shannon Naylor is the CTL post-graduate intern. In her free time, Shannon has been working on the fall musical, Guys and Dolls, as assistant director. 

WANTED: Commas after introductory phrases

by Bailey Bischoff

Commas are some of the most necessary yet misunderstood means of punctuation in the English language. Even great writers (and writing tutors!) sometimes do not understand the rules behind comma placement. To help with comma placement, I will elaborate on one of the many comma rules here:

Commas are needed after introductory phrases.

Helpful Hint #1: Introductory phrases often start with words like in, during, before, or after. These are prepositions. Sometimes individual words such as however, fortunately, nevertheless, or allegedly comprise introductory phrases.

Ex. In July of 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man to step foot on the moon.

Ex. Fortunately, he returned to Earth safe and sound.

Helpful Hint #2: Commas are needed after a dependent clause is used to begin a sentence. Dependent clauses often start with words like although, because, even though, since, though, while. (These are called subordinating conjunctions.) Dependent clauses have a subject-verb combination but cannot stand on their own as a sentence.

Ex. Even though he ate strawberries, Grayson didn’t get seeds in his teeth.

“Grayson” is the subject and “didn’t get” is the verb. “Even though he ate strawberries” is a dependent clause, not necessary for the sentence to be able to function, and is set off by a comma.

Note: Dependent clauses need a comma when they introduce a sentence; however, they can be put at the end of a sentence without the use of a comma.

Ex. In order to ride bikes, my family and I visited a park.

Ex. My family and I visited a park in order to ride bikes.

The important thing to remember is that both introductory phrases and dependent clauses placed at the beginning of sentences need commas to help them introduce a sentence.


Bailey Bischoff is a junior majoring in political science and is serving as student body president.

Compound possession: Whose is what?

by Shamus Jarvis

When dealing with a compound subject (two or more nouns or pronouns serving as a single subject of a sentence), a writer must know how to clearly signal to the reader who possesses what. This is due to the fact that it can be confusing knowing how to express whether one or more parties within the subject share ownership of an object or experience.

For example, look at the following two sentences:

  • Bob and Jane’s children are in kindergarten.
  • Bob’s and Jane’s children are in kindergarten.

In the first sentence, the fact that only the second proper noun (Jane) is written as a possessive—indicated by the apostrophe—signifies that the children belong to both Bob and Jane. In sentence two, both proper nouns are written in the possessive form, indicating that Bob’s children are different from Jane’s children.

This shows that when all parties within the compound subject of a sentence share possession, only the final noun or pronoun should appear in the possessive form. If the parties within the compound subject do not share ownership, then each noun or pronoun should be written as a possessive.

If the compound subject contains a noun and a personal pronoun, both must be written in the possessive form in order to signify joint ownership.


  • Sarah’s and my boss went to Florida.
  • Sarah and my boss went to Florida.

When the proper noun and personal pronoun appear in the possessive form, the sentence states, the boss of Sarah and myself went to Florida. When only the pronoun is written as a possessive, the meaning of the sentence changes to read, both Sarah and my boss went to Florida.

As compound possession comes up in your writing, ask yourself, “Do the parties within the compound subject share ownership, or do they own the object(s) independently of each other?” If there is joint ownership, then only the final noun or pronoun should appear in the possessive form; otherwise all nouns should appear as possessives.


Exit SHAMUS, upstage center.

How to wrangle semicolons

by Anna Tarnow

I love semicolons. They’re versatile little helpers that can go where either periods or commas might otherwise be placed. But you also need to be careful with them. You can’t just stick them into any sentence for no reason at all. Below is a list of the right times and places to use semicolons.

  1. In between two grammatically complete sentences that deal with the same idea (i.e., The dragon hoarded treasures in his cave; his acquisitions included a giant ruby, a magic sword, and a submarine.)
  2. In lists that have commas in the items (i.e., The dragon muttered his inventory in his sleep.  “One giant ruby, stolen from Narnia; one magic sword, stolen from Finn and Jake; and one submarine, stolen from the US Navy.”)
  3. Before “however” (and the “however” must be followed by a comma) (i.e. The dragon was very happy with his hoard; however, he sometimes felt like his obsessive treasure-counting was getting in the way of his love life.) Note: This applies to “therefore” as well.
  4. Before a coordinating conjunction (i.e., The dragon had met someone from last week; but they hadn’t hit it off and he decided to take a break from online dating.)

Some semicolon warnings:

  1. Use semicolons judiciously. One every couple of paragraphs is fine.
  2. Don’t end an introductory clause or phrase with a semicolon. This is because semicolons say “this idea is complete” when placed after a clause or phrase, and introductory clauses and phrases are not complete—they’re setting up for the real idea that comes after them.

Info drawn from Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace (11th edition) by Joseph M. Williams and Joseph Bizup. It’s a pretty handy book—I highly recommend getting a copy!

Anna Tarnow is a junior majoring in English and enjoys working on the Pilot newspaper, where she is editor-in-chief.

Quotation alteration

by Shamus Jarvis

As a follow-up to my recent post describing how to integrate quotations effectively, I would like to explain how to modify quotations in order to further help you achieve a seamlessly integrated quotation.

There are two tools (or punctuation marks) used to modify a quote:

  1. Ellipses
  2. Square brackets [ ]

An ellipsis (…) signifies an omission from a quotation. This punctuation mark is especially useful if you are quoting a particularly lengthy passage and want to limit the amount of quoted material that appears in your essay. For example, assume I wanted to integrate the following quote from Sense and Sensibility into my paper: “‘I felt myself,’ she added, ‘to be as solemnly engaged to him, as if the strictest legal covenant had bound us to each other’” (Austen 133).

By omitting a couple of words from the passage, I can call my reader’s attention to specific phrases that are significant to whatever claim I am making, thereby increasing the strength of the quotation: Marianne’s decision to correspond with Willoughby through written letters reflects her misconstrued notions concerning the state of her relationship with him, causing her to later admit that “[she] felt [herself] … to be as solemnly engaged to [Willoughby], as if the strictest legal covenant had bound [them] together” (Austen 133).

You will notice that this integrated quotation combines both methods of quote modification. The square brackets indicate pronouns that I have substituted in order to clarify the subject of the quotation. It is important to recognize that as a result of these substitutions, I have not altered the meaning of the original quotation. Square brackets are useful in altering certain words so that your quotation is grammatically correct within the context of the sentence that appears in your paper.

As a result of utilizing these two punctuation marks in altering quotations, you should be able to produce an effective integrated quote that fluidly transitions between your own words and the quotation.


Shamus is about to begin his final year of study at Principia College and looks forward to spending part of his upcoming fall semester studying abroad in England.