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Writing Pitfalls #2: Periods and Commas (Part 1)

This is week two in our six-week series on common writing pitfalls. Our years of proofreading and editing experience have shown us that there are common errors in most English manuscripts, and we want to share these important secrets with you so that your writing can stand out from your peers.

Last week we addressed the issue of active voice versus passive voice, and for the next two weeks we are discussing punctuation—periods and commas. Such small and seemingly insignificant black marks on a page can sometimes make all the difference in reading comprehension and flow. This week we will begin with the simpler topic: the period.

The Period

A period is a dot. The period comes at the end of a sentence. It should be that simple, right? Well, sometimes we proofread documents where the periods are missing. This is annoying, but probably just an oversight. The really frustrating times are when the period is in the wrong spot. What if the sentence is a quotation—does the period come before or after the quotation mark?

Which of the following is correct?

  1. I said, “Put those toys away.”

  2. I said, “Put those toys away”.

Drum roll please…

Option number one is correct. All terminal punctuation (periods, exclamation marks, questions marks, and so on) are placed inside quotation marks.

In-Text Citations

The other time The Paper Editing Service proofreaders encounter misplaced periods is when documents include in-text citations. Authors use in-text citations when they use quotes or ideas that come from a previously published resource. Which of the following sentences with an in-text citation is correct?

  1. The study group taught us that “58% of people prefer the color black versus the color red.” (Hill, 2016, p. 16)

  1. The study group taught us that “58% of people prefer the color black versus the color red.” (Hill, 2016, p. 16).

  1. The study group taught us that “58% of people prefer the color black versus the color red” (Hill, 2016, p. 16).

Drum roll please…

Option number three is correct. Periods come at the end of the sentence, and in-text citations are a part of the sentence. Therefore, here is the rule:

The period always comes after the in-text citation.


Here is the confusing exception to all of this—the period comes before the superscript number when an author uses a footnote. A sentence with a footnote would look like this:

We compared our results with those of another study group and found them to be consistent.1

If you have more questions about where to place a period or other terminal punctuation, feel free to pose your question on our Facebook page. If you are interested in studying more about this topic and other ways to improve your writing skills, please contact us for information about our forthcoming online courses and webinars.

See you next week for a special shout out to a new group of clients and a fall promotion that you will not want to miss!

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