Punctuation

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Punctuation provides vital clues that aid reader comprehension. It’s governed by well documented rules. For example, every English sentence requires end punctuation (unless it’s a title or a heading). Within those rules are stylistic choices, which we’ll cover here.

The more punctuation you add, the more complex a sentence becomes. If a sentence contains more than a comma or two and ending punctuation, consider rewriting it to make it clearer and more succinct.

Punctuation guidelines

Refer to the following sections for specific guidance.

Format punctuation in UI interactions

Use the following rules regarding punctuation formatting in text describing interaction with the UI, periods, parentheses, and brackets.

  • If the punctuation is part of the element, such as punctuation that the customer must type, format the punctuation the same as the element.

Examples:

Type Balance due: in cell A14. (In this example, the colon is bolded because the user types the colon.)

Navigate to Settings, then select Allow creation of contacts with duplicate SSNs. (The period is bolded because it is part of the UI element.)

  • If the punctuation isn’t part of the element, format the punctuation the same as the main text. This includes the > bracket when delineating a sequence of screens or menus.

Example:

On the Insert menu, go to Pictures, and then select From File. (In this example, the comma following Pictures and the period following File aren’t bold because the punctuation isn’t part of the UI labels.)

  • Format parentheses and brackets in the font style of the main text, not of the text in the parentheses or brackets.
    •  Exceptions: For notes, tips, warnings, figure notations, and table notations, bold both the word/caption title and the colon that follows.

Parentheses and brackets

Format parentheses and brackets in the font style of the main text, not of the text in the parentheses or brackets.
Example:
Open any Office app and select File > Account. (If you’re doing this in Outlook, select File > Office Account.)
(In this example, the opening and closing parentheses aren’t bold, to match the main text.)

Use the same font style for the closing parenthesis or bracket that you use for the opening parenthesis or bracket.

Apostrophes

Use an apostrophe

  • To form the possessive case of nouns. For singular nouns, add an apostrophe and an s, even if the noun ends in s, x, or z. To form the possessive of plural nouns that end in s, add only an apostrophe.
    Examples
    insider’s guide
    the box’s contents
    the CSS’s flexibility
    Berlioz’s opera
    an OEM’s product
    users’ passwords
    the Joneses’ computer
  • To indicate a missing letter in a contraction.
    Examples
    can’t
    don’t
    it’s

Don’t use an apostrophe

  • For the possessive form of it.
    Example
    Replace a formula with its calculated value.
  • With a possessive pronoun.
    Example
    The choice is yours.
  • To form the plural of a singular noun.
    Example
    Play your favorite games on all your devices.
Colons

Preceding a list

Include a colon at the end of a phrase that directly introduces a list.

Example

We can create a backup of all sorts of things to make the transition easier, including:

  • The apps you’ve installed on your phone, along with high scores and progress from participating apps.
  • The passwords for your accounts.
  • Your call history.

In titles and headings

When you use a colon in a title or heading, capitalize the word that follows it.

Examples

Block party: Communities use Minecraft to create public spaces

Why people lose interest in STEM: New research has some answers

Get started with Azure IoT: An interactive developer guide

Within sentences

Use colons sparingly at the end of a statement followed by a second statement that expands on it.

Example

Microsoft ActiveSync doesn’t recognize this device for one of two reasons: the device wasn’t connected properly or the device isn’t a smartphone.

Most of the time, two sentences are more readable.

Commas

Use a comma

  • Before the conjunction in a list of three or more items. The comma that comes before the conjunction is known as the Oxford or serial comma.

Examples:
Outlook includes Mail, Calendar, People, and Tasks.
Save your file to a hard drive, an external drive, or OneDrive.

Note: If a series contains more than three items or the items are long, consider a bulleted list to improve readability.

  • Following an introductory phrase.

Example:
With the Skype app, you can call any phone.

  • To separate independent clauses when they are joined by any of these seven coordinating conjunctions: and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet.

Example:
Select Options, and then select Enable fast saves.

Note: If the sentence is long or complex, consider rewriting as two sentences.

  • In a series of two or more adjectives that precede a noun, if the order of the adjectives can be reversed or if they can be separated by and without changing the meaning.

Examples:
Adjust the innovative, built-in Kickstand and Type Cover.
PlayFab is a complete back-end platform.

Note: Consider rewriting for a friendlier, more conversational tone. For example, say, “Build mixed-reality apps that support collaboration across platforms,” not “Build collaborative, cross-platform mixed-reality apps.”

  • To surround the year when you use a complete date within a sentence.

Example:
See the product reviews in the February 4, 2015, issue of the New York Times.

Don’t use a comma

  • To join independent clauses when you don’t use a conjunction. Use a semicolon instead.

Example:
Select Options; then select Enable fast saves.

  • Between verbs in a compound predicate (when two verbs apply to a single subject).

Example:
The program evaluates your computer system and then copies the essential files to the target location.

Note: Consider replacing a compound predicate with two sentences. Or add a subject for the second verb.

Examples:
The program evaluates your computer system. Then it copies the essential files to the target location.
The program evaluates your computer system, and then it copies the essential files to the target location.

  • Between the month and the year when a specific date isn’t mentioned.
Dashes and hyphens

Dashes and hyphens aren’t interchangeable. Follow these guidelines to help you use them the right way and in the right places.

Em dashes

Use to set off or emphasize parenthetical phrases.

  • Use an em dash (—) to set off a parenthetical phrase with more emphasis than parentheses provide. Don’t add spaces around an em dash.
  • Use one em dash on each side of a phrase embedded in a sentence.

Example:

The information in your spreadsheet—numbers, formulas, and text—is stored in cells.

  • Use one em dash to set off a phrase at the end of a sentence.

Example:

If you’re not sure about the details, look at the illustrations in the wizard—they can help you figure out what type of connection you’re using.

Don’t use an em dash:

  • In place of a bullet character in a list.
  • To indicate an empty cell in a table.

Don’t capitalize the first word after an em dash unless the word is a proper noun.

En dashes

Use in ranges of numbers and dates, to indicate negative numbers, and as a minus sign. Use to connect compound modifiers under specific conditions.

Additional information.

Hyphens

Use to join words and connect prefixes to stem words. Don’t use two hyphens in place of an em dash.

For information about hyphenating specific technology words, see the Microsoft Style Guide A–Z word list. For information about hyphenating common words, see The American Heritage Dictionary and The Chicago Manual of Style.

Predicate adjectives

Don’t hyphenate a predicate adjective (an adjective that complements the subject of a sentence and follows a linking verb) unless the Microsoft Writing Style Guide specifically recommends it. Check the A–Z word list to find out.

Examples:

The text is left aligned.

The camera is built in.

Many viruses are memory-resident.

Noun modifiers

In compound words that precede and modify a noun as a unit, don’t hyphenate:

  • An adverb ending in -ly, such as completely, when it precedes another modifier.

Examples:

extremely stylized image

highly graphical interface

Note: Use adverbs sparingly. They usually aren’t necessary.>

Hyphenate two or more words that precede and modify a noun as a unit if:

  • Confusion might result without the hyphen.

Examples:

built-in drive

high-level-language compiler

read-only memory

lower-left corner

floating-point decimal

line-by-line scrolling

scrolling line by line

up-to-date information

  • One of the words is a past or present participle (a verb form ending in -ed or -ing and used as an adjective or noun).

Examples:

left-aligned text

free-flowing form

well-defined schema

The schema is well defined.

  • The modifier is a number or single letter plus a noun or participle.

Examples:

two-sided arrow

5-point star

y-coordinate values

Suspended compound modifiers

  • Don’t use suspended compound modifiers, such as left- and right-aligned text, unless space is limited. Instead, spell out the entire phrase.

Example:

upper-right or lower-right corner

  • If you use a suspended compound modifier, include a hyphen with both adjectives. The first hyphen is followed by a space.

Example:

upper- or lower-right corner

  • Don’t form suspended compound modifiers from one-word adjectives.

Example:

uppercase and lowercase letters

Prefixes

Avoid creating new words by adding prefixes to existing words. Rewrite to avoid creating a new word.

In general, don’t include a hyphen after the following prefixes unless omitting the hyphen could confuse the reader:

  • auto
  • co
  • cyber
  • exa
  • giga
  • kilo
  • mega
  • micro
  • non
  • pre
  • re
  • sub
  • tera
  • un

Use a hyphen between a prefix and a stem word:

  • If a confusing word results without the hyphen (this will sometimes be subjective).

Examples:

non-native versus nonnative

pre-provisioned versus prepovisioned

  • If the stem word begins with a capital letter.

Example:

non-XML versus nonXML

A prefix affects a word, not a phrase. For example, instead of non-security related, use unrelated to security.

When adding a prefix to a stem word results in a double vowel and each vowel is pronounced, don’t use a hyphen.

Examples:

reenter versus re-enter

cooperate versus co-operate

Additional information about hyphens.

Ellipses

In general, don’t use an ellipsis (…) except in the situations described here or to indicate omitted code in technical content.

It’s OK to use an ellipsis to indicate a pause in conversational UI messages.
Example
(Hmm … looks like that link is broken.)

When there’s an ellipsis in UI, don’t include it in instructions or procedures.
Example
Select Safety, and then Delete browsing history.

In quoted material, use an ellipsis to indicate omitted text.

  • If the ellipsis replaces text within a sentence, include a space before and after the ellipsis.
    Example
    The quick brown fox … lazy dog.
  • If the ellipsis replaces the end of a quoted sentence, include a space before the ellipsis and follow it with a closing period, with no intervening space.
    Example
    The quick brown fox ….
Exclamation points

Use exclamation points sparingly. Save them for when they count.

Parenthetical elements

If the parenthetical element is part of and ending a sentence, place closing punctuation outside the closing parenthesis.

Example

Access the Emails dashboard to view additional details on email events (delivery status, timestamp, recipient email address, etc.).

If the parenthetical element is a complete, standalone sentence, don’t use parentheses.

Example

No: Users can use the Search box on the Contacts List tab to search for a specific contact. (Select the Help link to view helpful search tips.)

Yes: Users can use the Search box on the Contacts List tab to search for a specific contact. Select the Help link to view helpful search tips.

Periods

Don’t use end punctuation in headlines, headings, subheadings, UI titles, or UI text. If the end of a sentence is a link, do not include the period in the link.

End all sentences with a period, even if they’re only two words. Put one space, not two, after a period.

Headline example:

Be brief—make every word count

Text example:

Be brief. Make every word count.

In bulleted and numbered lists, end each list item with a period if:

  • Any item forms a complete sentence when combined with the list introduction that precedes the colon.
    • Exception: Don’t use periods if all the items are UI labels, headings, subheadings, or strings.
  • Any item by itself is a complete sentence.
  • Don’t use semicolons, commas, or conjunctions (and, or, but) at the end of list items. List items will either end with a period or not.
Question marks

Use questions sparingly. In general, customers want us to give them answers.

When a customer needs to make a decision, a question is appropriate.

Examples

If you forgot your password, provide your secret answer.

More nature themes are available online.

Do you want to save your changes?

Quotation marks

Quotation marks are to be used for quotations only. Use italics instead of quotation marks if you need to emphasize or refer to words or parts of sentences.

In most content, use double quotation marks (” “) not single quotation marks (‘ ‘).

Semicolons

Use semicolons between independent clauses that aren’t joined by a conjunction, between contrasting statements that aren’t joined by a conjunction, and to separate items in a series that contains internal punctuation.

Slashes

When using slashes in phrases, file paths, and URLs:

Don’t place spaces around a slash.

Example

Incorrect: Policies / Claims

Correct: Policies/Claims

Capitalize the word after the slash if the word before the slash is capitalized. For example, if country/region is used as a label in a form, capitalize it as Country/Region.

Use a slash:

  • To imply a combination. Capitalize the word after the slash if the word before the slash is capitalized. For example, if country/region is used as a label in a form, capitalize it as Country/Region.
    Examples
    client/server
    TCP/IP
    CD/DVD drive
    Use the on/off switch to turn your mouse off when you’re not using it.
    Turn on the On/Off toggle.
  • To separate parts of an internet address. Use two slashes after the protocol name.
    Example
    ftp://example.com/downloads
  • In server, folder, and file names.
    Example
    \\mslibrary\catalog\collect.doc
  • Between the numerator and denominator of fractions in equations that occur in text.
    Examples
    a/x + b/y = 1
    x + 2/3(y) = m
  • As substitute for or, such as product/service, when appropriate.

Don’t use end punctuation in headlines, headings, subheadings, UI titles, or UI text. If the end of a sentence is a link, don’t include the period in the link.

End all sentences with a period, even if they’re only two words. Put one space, not two, after a period.

Headline example:

Be brief—make every word count

Text example:

Be brief. Make every word count.

In bulleted and numbered lists, end each list item with a period if:

  • Any item forms a complete sentence when combined with the list introduction that precedes the colon.
    • Exception: Don’t use periods if all the items are UI labels, headings, subheadings, or strings.
  • Any item by itself is a complete sentence.
  • Don’t use semicolons, commas, or conjunctions (and, or, but) at the end of list items. List items will either end with a period or not.

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