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I am curious about whether I should end non-sentences (or very elliptical sentences, if you will) with a period.

For example, I am writing some documentation for some computer code. In this usually I include code like argument_description="Echo times for each input file". Often the user sees this formatted as

ARGUMENT — Echo times for each input file

Some other times I might be writing descriptions for software packages, then my text might appear to the user as:

Description: PAW atomic data generator

Also, on occasion, I might print out a sign for the office saying

Meeting canceled

or

Christian's agarose gel, 1.2%

Up until now I have stuck with no periods ever unless it is a full sentence, or part of a longer text. I am more liberal with question and/or an exclamation marks, as they also serve to better carry a more emotional meaning.

But I am thinking there might be some exceptions where a period is needed regardless. Perhaps even among the examples above?

  • This is a tricky question because I don't think there is any well-defined syntax of sentence fragments. It may just be left to your personal preference and aesthetics although a lot of technical documentatation artifacts (e.g. ontologies) do have conventions. – GoldenGremlin Jul 20 '15 at 16:25
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    When I was writing user interface stuff while working for IBM, the rule (handed down from on high) was that you only used periods to end complete sentences, or occasionally if necessary to clearly divide two distinct phrases. – Hot Licks Jul 20 '15 at 16:30
  • Where it's obviously standing proud as a not-quite-sentence, it's normal to punctuate as a sentence. << There were three cars on the drive. The top one was a Ford. Then came a Nissan. Then a Bugatti Veyron. >> << 'Hello! I'm Stanislaus.' >> But with notes, titles, tables ... there are no well-defined universal protocols, as Silenus states. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 20 '15 at 16:47
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While adding a period at the end of a non-sentence doesn't make it a sentence, well, it doesn't make it any less a sentence, either. A period, to me, signals that the writer was in fact finished with whatever message he or she meant to convey, whereas no period gives me the unjustified but nonetheless bothersome feeling that the writer was murdered, abducted, or otherwise incapacitated before finishing the task at hand.

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