Punctuation in English Academic Writing, Part 4: Ellipsis and Asterisk

This is the fourth and final post in the Magoosh TOEFL Blog’s overview of punctuation in formal, academic written English. The previous posts are linked below:

In this final post, we’re going to look at two forms of punctuation that are less common, but very important in advanced/graduate level academic writing: ellipsis and asterisk.

  • Ellipsis
    The form and use of ellipsis isn’t often taught in college writing courses, but this kind of punctuation is very important in scholarly works. The ellipsis is three periods in a row (…).It’s used in quotations from sources that have been abridged. By this, I mean that quotations containing the ellipsis have had some of the original wording removed. This is usually done to get rid of irrelevant or redundant information so that readers can just focus on the most relevant words from an external source.To look at how this works, let’s revisit my quotation about the period and its alternate name, “dot.”

Original sentences: When used in Web or email addresses, the period is called a “dot.” That’s why web-based businesses are sometimes called “dot coms.”

Shortened quotation with use of ellipsis: According to Magoosh.com, the period has a different name in Internet contexts. Magoosh states that the period can be “…called a dot…. web-based businesses are… called ‘dot coms.’”

When an ellipsis comes after an abbreviation, there may be four periods in a row—one for the period at the end of the abbreviation, and three for the ellipsis itself. This can look a little strange, but it is the correct way to do things in an abridged scholarly quotation.

For an example of this, let’s abridge a quotation from the website of the School of Law at the Washington University in St. Louis.

Original sentence:
Much like the main subdivisions of the U.K. (i.e. England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland), the states of the U.S. have their own laws, court systems, and bar associations.

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Abbreviated quotation with ellipsis:
According to the Washington University School of Law, “Much like the… subdivisions of the U.K….. the states of the U.S. have their own laws.”

This odd four-period construction also occurs when an ellipsis is placed at the end of a complete sentence that ends in a period, as seen below (quotation taken from a Smithsonian magazine article on robotics):

Original quotation:        

Those innovations are part of the new trend in robot design, known simply as soft robotics. The point is to move away from machines based on stiff human-like arms and legs, and instead think “boneless.”

In fact, the models for most soft robots are invertebrates—insects, octopuses or squid. Thanks to advances in silicone and other bendable materials, one of these robots could, for instance, use a tentacle that unfurls and twists and is able to grasp something from different angles. Soft robots can stretch, change their shape or size—in short, adapt to their environment.

Abbreviated quotation with ellipsis:
The Smithsonian Institute indicates that modern robotics designs draw inspiration from the animal kingdom, saying that: “Those innovations are part of the new trend in robot design, known simply as soft robotics…. models for most soft robots are invertebrates—insects, octopuses or squid.”

  • The asterisk

In formal business writing, the asterisk is sometimes used to mark footnotes, extra commentary about the source or background of information within a scholarly work. If you see an asterisk in a text, look down to the bottom of the page or to a designated footnotes section at the end of the paper and find the asterisked footnote.

If there’s a series of footnotes, a single asterisk will be used to direct readers to the first footnote*, a double asterisk will be used to direct readers to the second footnote**, three asterisks will be used to direct readers to the third footnote***, and so on.


* This is the first footnote

** And the second footnote I referred to is right here.

*** Congratulations! You found the third footnote.

This series of posts covers all of the most common punctuation marks in academic writing. There are other forms of punctuation that sometimes appear in academic writing as well. And of course, punctuation is used a bit differently in less formal writing. We’ll get to other punctuation marks and informal use of punctuation in some later posts.


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  • David Recine

    David is a Test Prep Expert for Magoosh TOEFL and IELTS. Additionally, he's helped students with TOEIC, PET, FCE, BULATS, Eiken, SAT, ACT, GRE, and GMAT. David has a BS from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an MA from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. His work at Magoosh has been cited in many scholarly articles, his Master's Thesis is featured on the Reading with Pictures website, and he's presented at the WITESOL (link to PDF) and NAFSA conferences. David has taught K-12 ESL in South Korea as well as undergraduate English and MBA-level business English at American universities. He has also trained English teachers in America, Italy, and Peru. Come join David and the Magoosh team on Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram, or connect with him via LinkedIn!

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