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A period is a stop sign, a place where readers are to complete the thought before driving on.

Textbooks say you need a period after you’ve completed a sentence with its subject, verb, object, and modifying phrases. Not really. Stop anytime. Whenever it sounds right. When the hard stress of the word blows a whistle and says you should come to a complete stop. No steel can pierce the human heart so chillingly as a period at the right moment. – Isaak Babel 1894–1940

In ancient times, sentences were called “periods,” meaning a “cycle.” A subject meets a verb and travels forward with information and action until the punctuation calls for a stop.

  • Know When to Stop.

Listen to the stress on the last word in a completed thought and follow with a period.

  1. Samuel didn’t know what to do he do. He fidgeted his way through the rest of the meeting.
  2. Jan ran to hug her mom, mom. “I’m so glad to see you.”
  3. Maria asked how to get to town? town. (A question would end with a rise in tone. The stress on “town” indicates a statement that should end with a period.)
  • One Space after the Period, Please.

If your typing class taught you to put two spaces after the period, you need to catch up with modern times. Only one space goes after the period (which has been true for more than twenty years). Sometimes the cut-and-paste operation in word processing software can create two spaces. Before you submit a finished manuscript, do a “search and replace” in your word processing software, replacing any double spaces with a single space.

  • Brevity Doesn’t Mean to Abbreviate.

Back when print text was manually typeset one letter at a time, saving characters was important. Brevity now means “the quickest path to the meaning.” You don’t want your busy reader to waste a microsecond figuring out what an abbreviation says. A few abbreviations are considered the correct spelling of the way we talk. For example, we say, Mr. and Mrs. Jones, not Mister and Mistress Jones. You might say, Dr. Frederick. When in doubt, err on the side of clarity, spelling out the word.

  1. While at West Texas Military Academy, Gen. General Douglas MacArthur played quarterback on the football team.
  2. In Mat. Matthew 4:7, Jesus says one should not test God. (Many people aren’t familiar enough with the Bible to know who “Mat” is.)
  3. John Roberts, Jr. Roberts Jr became the seventeenth chief justice of the United States US Supreme Court. (In names, “Junior” is spelled Jr, and you’re no longer required to use a period or preceding comma. If your pronunciation sounds like “you ess supreme court,” you don’t have to spell out “United States.” In this case as well, the periods aren’t mandatory.)
  4. The United States US capitol is in Washington, D.C. DC. (The postal standards gave us two-letter spelling of all fifty states when the state follows the name of a city. “DC,” without periods, is the correct designation for District of Columbia, same as all the state codes.)
  • Next to Quotation Marks.

Unlike colons and semicolons, which always go outside, the period always goes inside the quotation marks.

Example: After so many books, I didn’t need to read “How to Write.” I just needed to write.