Ellipses (those three periods in a row) are used in casual writing situations such as email, texting, and on social media when a writer thinks a reader will intuitively know what comes next as well as in place of the abbreviation “etc.” or additional examples. We also use them to show pauses in speech and thought as well as when a thought, well…uh…trails off…into…silence.
Some people argue that the way they are used in these contexts has become abusive. Whether or not you agree, it’s important to note that a paper riddled with a series of (…) every time you pause or change directions in your thoughts or anticipate your readers understanding what you are going to say next could be a bit confusing. If your writing tends to look a bit too much like a scatter plot, here are some tips to help you use ellipses as they are commonly accepted in academic writing.
1. An ellipsis is used to indicate the omission of a word, phrase, line, or passage from a direct quotation when using cited information.
2. Although some writers do it, the Chicago Manual of Style and MLA strongly encourages writers to not use an ellipsis at the beginning or ending of a quoted passage.
APA says it is unnecessary to use an ellipsis at the beginning of a quotation, even if the quoted material begins mid-sentence. The exception to this would be if omitting the ellipsis would confuse the reader or misrepresent the original passage. In that case, APA states that an ellipsis should be used
3. It should only be used to indicate faltering speech or trailing thoughts when used in passages of direct dialog, generally in creative writing. If you need to indicate a pause or a change of direction in thought otherwise in your writing, you should use an em-dash instead of an ellipsis.
4. In APA style, an ellipsis is also used when citing works with more than seven authors.
5. If a complete sentence precedes the ellipsis, then you should retain the final punctuation of that sentence, leave a space, and then begin the series of three dots.
For example, “How do you correctly punctuate an ellipsis?… Let me think.”
This is true for periods, exclamation points, semi-colons, and colons as well as question marks.
6. If there is a phrase preceding the ellipsis that end in a comma, (such as the one you just read) then you include the comma, leave a space, insert the ellipsis, leave another space, and continue with the passage.
7. If you are working in MLA style and using an ellipsis to omit words or phrases from a poem, you simply use the series of three dots as you would in prose. However, if you are omitting a full line (or more) of poetry, then you need to use additional periods so that the line of them is similar to the length of another line in the poem.
8. Make sure that you use ellipses ethically. This means that you cannot change the meaning, intent, or tone of the quotation by leaving out material and replacing it with an ellipsis.
9. All three dots in your ellipsis should appear on the same line of text.
10. Use ellipses sparingly. The more frequently you use them in a paper, the less effective they become. Look at passages where you’ve used them. Could you summarize the passage and be as effective or perhaps even more effective?
And the next time you feel the uncontrollable urge to insert those three little periods into your formal writing (and you aren’t condensing a quoted passage), try reflecting on this first:
“God grant me the serenity
To accept the proper uses for the ellipsis;
Courage to use it when I should and deny myself when I shouldn’t;
And the wisdom to know the difference.”