Hey—it’s colon health month! Well, it’s officially Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. So, for the health of your own personal colon, make sure to eat well—that means lots of vegetables. And get screened regularly as recommended by your primary healthcare provider. Click here for more information about colon health.

As for your punctuation colon, I’m your doctor! And as such, I prescribe the following practices for long-term, healthy colon use and functionality in your writing.


Snoop as a doctor

Generally, you should use a colon for three primary purposes:

  1. To introduce a list 😉
  2. To separate independent clauses
  3. To emphasize a word or phrase

For recommended colon dosage and possible side effects of misuse, read the fine print that follows.

Use a Colon to Introduce a List

Use a colon to introduce a list when that list follows an independent clause (a complete sentence). It looks like this:

MoxieWorks specializes in four areas of training: writing, public speaking, teaching communication, and professionalism.

The independent clause is “MoxieWorks specializes in four areas of training.” That’s a complete sentence, so it should be followed, in this case, with a colon; the colon tells the reader that the items listed after it are those four areas of training.

Don’t use a colon, however, when the items you want to list are part of the sentence, itself, like this:

MoxieWorks specializes in training for writing, public speaking, teaching communication, and professionalism.

No colon needed there!

WARNING: If your organization has created in-house style guidelines or follows guidelines such as those of the Associated Press (AP), you may be required to use a colon after a dependent clause (incomplete sentence) when setting up a bulleted list in certain kinds of marketing collateral or online publications. If you’re regular with your grammar practices, this particular irregularity might bother you. Just roll with it. It looks like this:

Consider getting a colonoscopy if:

  • You are over age 50.
  • Your doctor recommends it.
  • You have a family history of colon cancer.

Doctor with Clipboard

While not grammatically correct where punctuating sentences is concerned, that format may be a requirement for other reasons. Sometimes you just have to go with the rules set forth by your organization. I do it all the time. Don’t stress out about it—following organizational guidelines is part of your job and not worth a case of irritable bowel syndrome.

Use a Colon to Separate Independent Clauses

Use a colon to separate two independent clauses when the second one further explains the first one. Leave one space, as you would between any two sentences, and capitalize the first word after the colon only if it is a proper noun (such as the name of a state). If it’s not a proper noun, don’t capitalize that first word.

Many people like to go to someplace warm for vacation: Hawaii is a very popular warm destination.

Some dogs like to eat pens: a blue Bic is Maddux’s favorite. (But not great for his little doggie colon!)

If there are two or more sentences following the colon, leave one space after the colon, as usual; then, capitalize the first word of each of those sentences. For example,

At the talk, the facilitator made three important points about creating success when working collaboratively: First, communicate clearly. Second, be honest. Third, be kind.

Colon on computer keyboard

Use a Colon for Emphasis

Use a colon to emphasize a phrase or single word at the end of a sentence. In this case, the colon is functioning much like an em dash. (See this blog post for more information about that awesome and underappreciated punctuation mark.)

Employers look for one common skill among employees at all levels: good communication.

Don’t Overdose on the Colon

While the colon is a great punctuation mark, remember to use it in moderation and as prescribed. Keeping a healthy punctuation colon is critical to your writing health and key to avoiding communication constipation.

And remember that other colon, as well: you need it to be healthy and in good working order so you can live a long and prosperous life with lots of time for writing.

Confidence and Power in Writing

Fiber In!

Featured Image Credit <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/background”>Background photo created by freepik – www.freepik.com</a>

Doctor with prescription pad Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

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