Punctuation..? by User Design

User Design has very kindly sent me a free copy of Punctuation..? to review. (I haven’t had any previous involvement with User Design and I am not receiving any kind of payment for this review.)

Punctuation..? aims to explain the functions and uses of 21 punctuation marks. The intended audience seems to be broad, but the content is focused on the British English use of punctuation.

It is a slim book at 36 pages. It is staple bound (or saddle stitched) with the title of the book on the spine.

Used with permission from User Design.

Image used with permission from User Design.

Printed on good quality paper, it feels nice in the hand. However, I don’t think this can help to justify the £10 price tag.

The illustrations are idiosyncratic but charming. They are the main selling point of this publication. Readers who are easily bored should find the often amusing drawings enough reason to keep reading.

I was very pleased to see en dashes and em dashes touched on as well as hyphens. I was also interested to see guillemets, interpuncts and pilcrows included.

Unfortunately, the book is let down by errors, clunky prose and a lack of clarity. I find some of the explanations to be unhelpful or slightly misleading. This is a shame because Punctuation..? could be an excellent introductory guide after a little polishing.

Image used with permission from User Design.

Image used with permission from User Design.

The book is ideal if you want to spark someone’s interest in punctuation. It would also be ideal for a child who finds the topic of punctuation difficult or intimidating.

For adults, you might enjoy it as a quirky primer. But if you want to know how to use punctuation correctly, I can’t recommend anything more than Trask’s Guide to Punctuation.


Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, Jeremy Butterfield (ed.)

This is my latest book recommendation. I consult this book regularly and it rarely lets me down. Respected and authoritative, it is a book with a sensible and measured approach to the English language.

The 7,500 entries are displayed in an A–Z fashion (like a dictionary, as per its name) with clear explanations and examples. It covers grammar, syntax, spelling, word choices and meanings, punctuation, and differences in English usage around the world. Fowler’s is my favourite source for identifying myths and ‘rules’ that are unnecessary and that damage good writing.

I referred to it in my previous post on ending a sentence with a preposition, and I have directed clients to it when discussing preferred forms of words. I even flick through it occasionally just to see what interesting entries I stumble across.

My hardback copy of the latest edition has 928 pages – you probably won’t want to carry it around with you! But it is an excellent publication to add to your collection. And (to my chagrin) it seems to be a lot cheaper to buy now than it was when I bought it.

The Penguin Guide to Punctuation, R.L. Trask

If you struggle with punctuation, this is the book that you should acquire a copy of.

I have many, many books that I refer to when I am working. The Penguin Guide to Punctuation by R. L. Trask is probably the most accessible one on the subject of punctuation.

The definitions, explanations and examples are simple and easy to understand. The text is well laid out and not an overwhelming block. At 162 pages it isn’t an intimidating tome and you can take it with you to wherever you like to write. It is incredibly thorough (especially the chapter on commas) and even deals with aspects that are not strictly punctuation (such as capitalisation).

I recommend this book because no one should be afraid of punctuation. Sometimes it gets tricky, but most of the time it is fairly straightforward. I know that people worry about their use of commas or what a semicolon is actually for. But once you have the knowledge how, you will be surprised at your ability to wield them effectively in your writing. The guidelines are expertly set out in this book, and they will give you the confidence you need to be able to use punctuation at its best.