colon_which is correct

Last week we talked about how to use colons to introduce lists. Today we’re going to talk about the other key way to use colons in sentences: to provide explanations. For example, let’s take a look at the following sentence:

  • “Participants identified a key barrier to implementing the recommendation: a lack of access to the recommended test.”

In this example, the part of the sentence that comes after the colon explains or elaborates on the part of the sentence that comes before the colon. That is, the part of the sentence that comes before the colon tells us that there was a key barrier to implementing the recommendation and the part of the sentence that comes after the colon identifies what the key barrier is.

Note that just like when we use colons to introduce lists, we always need a “full sentence” before a colon when using it to introduce an explanation. That is, the words that come before the colon in a sentence must be able to stand on their own. In comparison, the words that come after the colon don’t need to form a full sentence. In the example above, the words that come after the colon don’t form a full sentence. However, we could reword the sentence so that the part of the sentence that comes after the colon does form a full sentence:

  • “Participants identified a key barrier to implementing the recommendation: patients in rural areas may not have access to the recommended test.”

Of course, we don’t need to use a colon to express the information in our examples sentences; we could rewrite them to avoid using a colon altogether. For example, we could write the sentences like this:

  • “Participants indicated that a key barrier to implementing the recommendation is a lack of access to the recommended test.”
  • “Participants indicated that a key barrier to implementing the recommendation is that patients in rural areas may not have access to the recommended test.”

However, when you read these sentences, you may have noticed that the part of the sentence that identifies the key barrier doesn’t stand out as much as it did in the sentences that include a colon. This is because colons create a clear break between the part of a sentence that sets up an explanation and the actual explanation. The break makes the part of the sentence that comes after the colon (i.e., the explanation) stand out more. In other words, it places emphasis on the explanation.

Because colons draw more attention to explanations, colons are great for drawing a reader’s attention to certain information. For example, if you really want your reader to know that a lack of access to a recommended test is a key barrier to implementing a health care guideline, writing the sentence so that it includes a  colon can help you make this information stand out.

Have any lingering questions about how to use colons to introduce explanations? Leave us a note in our comments section below and we’ll do our best to incorporate your questions into one of our upcoming posts.

—————————————————————————————————————————————
Inpression Editing helps businesses, professionals, and students make the best impression possible on customers, investors, hiring managers, and admissions committees. We do this by providing copywriting, editing, and writing coaching services for website copy, blog posts, marketing materials, personal statements, and much more.

Located in Toronto, Canada, we provide all of our services in both Canadian and US English. Get an instant quote here.




How to use colons to introduce explanations
Tagged on:                 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.