Where the dangers presented by those with a little learning are allayed
Punctuation is governed by rules of grammar, not style, so you don't get to choose how punctuation works, you just shut up, ignore any self-styled grammaguru's opinions, put your nose to the grindstone, and obey the rules.
I'm not focused on telling you the rules, here; I'm focused on correcting the error of introducing style to punctuation usage, on areas where punctuation mistakes are commonly made, and on the ridiculous myths that have grown from the opinions of people who know neither what they're talking about nor when to shut up.
When speaking, it is easy to ensure that a listener understands nuances and what have you, because visual and tonal cues help the speaker to get his thoughts across, and visual/spoken responses from the listener help the speaker to know not only what has been understood, but also what needs to be clarified.
In writing, none of that is available to you; your reader has only the flat words that lie on the page.
With spoken communication, it is extremely easy for the listener to know:
Phrasing can help with this, but it is the primary demesne of punctuation, so using punctuation consistently – i.e. consistently with the rules, so that everyone uses it the same – is essential.
Try to keep in mind that punctuation is not for structuring blocks of text to suit some arrogant moron's preferences, it is for structuring text so that it can be read and understood. Huge difference. it is a set of symbols which can allow the writer to join and separate thoughts, ideas, and topics so that the written words convey as much meaning as the same person could convey with the spoken word.
So don't mess with it. Buy the smallest book on punctuation you can find (it's a really small subject, with very few rules, so a book that's twice the size will only contain three times the waffle), learn the rules, practice the rules, and always follow the rules.
Unless you don't want to, of course. Writing is an art, after all.
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