A Dash of Style

“Punctuation is the music of language.”

So proclaims Noah Lukeman in his book A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation, and it is punctuation as an art which is the focus of his book. As Lukeman says himself, he’s not interested in re-hashing all the rules about punctuation. He’s interested in showing you how using punctuation skilfully can improve your writing. It’s a book for creative writers, writers who “want to know how punctuation can serve them—not how they can serve punctuation.”

Although there are certainly punctuation rights and wrongs, what is clear in A Dash of Style is that the key to punctuating well is not memorising a list of rules and following them slavishly. Rather, it is becoming aware of what you are doing and why you are doing it. It is asking yourself if the use of this mark rather than that one enhances your content or detracts from it. Lukeman shows what each mark is designed to do: it is perhaps “the speed bump” (the comma) or “the magician” (the colon). Armed with this knowledge, it is then up to you decide whether its use is appropriate and effective in any given context.

The book is enhanced by Lukeman’s illustrating many of his points with extracts from works of literature. He also includes exercises at the end of each chapter which provide ideas for playing with a piece of punctuation in your writing and discovering how its addition (or removal) affects that work.

Given that Lukeman uses the same format for each significant punctuation mark (examining use, misuse, and so forth) the book does feel somewhat repetitive, perhaps unavoidably so. But for writers who are keen to go beyond simply avoiding egregious punctuation errors and instead use punctuation to actively enhance their writing, A Dash of Style is an excellent tool.


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