Research Key

Punctuation: A Problem to Level 500 Bilingual Students in the University of Buea

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Qualitative research
Analytical tool
Descriptive statistics
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The use of punctuation is very important in writing in the sense that it facilitates reading and makes the sentence or text easy to understand. Thus, we have two types of punctuation: those that indicate the separation of ideas within the structure of a sentence, or the separation of complete clauses.

Examples of these punctuation marks are the comma (,), the colon (:), and the semicolon (;). Secondly, we have punctuations that indicate sentence endings like the full stop (.), the exclamation mark (!), and the question mark (?). So, punctuation plays a very important role in writing.

However, students have a lot of difficulties in using them appropriately and our main concern on it was to find out why students have lacuna in understanding and follow its rules.

At the end of the analysis, it was discovered that students’ problem on not punctuating well is first of all due to lack of seriousness, concentration, and negative attitude towards punctuation.

Secondly, the poor usage of punctuation by these students is due to the lack of seriousness of teachers teaching it to students as a key to writing.

In trying to solve this problem, students first of all should develop a positive attitude, they should stop minimizing punctuation in their writings and put seriousness on learning the rules.

On the other hand, teachers on their part should take it very seriously by giving practical assignments to students most often and focus more on those drawing back.




According to the 8th edition of the Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, punctuation is defined as the marks used in writing that divide sentences and phrases.

So, punctuation is simply a system of points that is used to interrupt communication, with the main purpose to clarify a piece of writing and make it easier to read or listen to.

Thus it serves two main functions: firstly, the separation of successive units (sentences by periods, or items in the list by commas) and included units (parentheses mark of an interpolated phrase or clause).

Secondly, the specification of language function, where apostrophe indicates that inflection is genitive.

The ability to punctuate correctly is the gateway to effective communication.

Therefore, punctuation marks if inappropriately used or omitted could completely alter the meaning of a written sentence.

Hence, we shall consider the common uses of the pertinent punctuation marks used in English, in the hope that, once you are able to master the basic rules, you will be in a better position to communicate effectively and confidently.

Background to the Study

The beginning of punctuation lies in classical rhetoric-the art of oratory. Back in ancient Greece and Rome, when a speech was prepared in writing, marks were used to indicate where-and for how long-a speaker should pause.

These pauses (and eventually the marks themselves) were named after the section they divided. The longest section was called a period, defined by Aristotle as “a portion of a speech that has in itself a beginning and an end.”

The shortest pause was a comma (literally, “that which is cut off’), and midway between the two was the colon-a “limb”, “strophe” or “clause”.

The three marks pause were sometimes graded in a geometric progression, with one “beat” for a comma, two for a colon and four for a period.

As W.F. Bolton observes in a Living Language (1988), “short marks in oratorical ‘scripts’ began as physical necessities, but, needed to coincide with the ‘phrasing ‘of the piece, the demand of emphasis, and other nuances of elocution”. Until the introduction of printing in the late 15thcentury, punctuation in English decidedly unsystematic and at times virtually absent.

For instance, many of Chaucer’s manuscripts were punctuated with nothing more than periods at the end of verse lines, without regard for syntax or sense. In the 18th and 17th centuries, punctuation was increasingly determined by the rules of syntax rather than the breathing patterns of speakers.

By the end of the industrious 19th century, grammarians had come to de-emphasize the elocutionary role of punctuation: “punctuation is the art of dividing written discourse into sections by means of points, for the purpose of showing the grammatical connection and dependence, and of making the sentence mare obvious.

In our time, the declamatory basis for punctuation has a pretty much-given way to the syntactic approach. Also, in keeping with a century-long trend toward shorter sentences, punctuation is now more lightly applied than it was in the days of Dickens and Emerson.

The system of punctuation now used by writers has been complete and three of its most components are the space left blank between words; the indentation of the first line of a new paragraph; and the upper case, or capital, a letter was written at the beginning of a sentence and at the beginning of a proper name or title, Richard Nordquist (2014).

Statement of the Problem

The use of punctuation in English is to put a pause in sentences, breaks in order for the text to be easier to be read. But, we notice that students are a little bit confused when it comes to punctuating the sentences. This then makes the standard of punctuation too low and poorly used.

Aims and Objectives

Due to the difficulties faced when punctuating, the purpose of this study will be to develop an account of students’ developing believes about punctuation in the classroom context, and to thereby make a significant contribution to teachers’ understanding of the task of teaching punctuation and effectiveness of their teaching in order to prevent confusion in students. Therefore, the objectives of this study are as follow:

  • To develop a clear and comprehensive account of the development of students’ misunderstanding of punctuation, particularly intra-sentence punctuation.

  • To investigate the influence of the classroom in the development of students’ understanding of punctuation.

  • To explore the implications of the study for developing theoretically and practically appropriate strategies for teaching punctuation to students.

  • To develop an account of the relationship between the development of knowledge about punctuation and knowledge about other aspects of written language.

Research Questions

These questions will help us provide answers to the problem in the investigation:

  • Why are students confused with punctuation?
  • What better method can the teachers use to teach punctuation?
  • Does the level of understanding of students affect their knowledge of mastering punctuation?
  • How can this problem be investigated?
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