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I am having difficulty deciding when a colon should be used in a sentence. I have a specific example that I was unable to resolve via browsing the web

The research centre will use confidence intervals as well as certainties to to convey their findings. For example: Average surface temperatures will increase by two degrees by 2020 (95% confidence interval).

Have I used a colon correctly in the above example?

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    I would have used a comma (,) where you used a colon (:).
    – nnnnnn
    Nov 13, 2019 at 3:57
  • Yes, it should be a comma.
    – Ram Pillai
    Nov 13, 2019 at 7:33

1 Answer 1

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  • Either comma or colon is fine to use after the phrase "for example". Typically, a comma is used. When a more "significant" separation is desired, a colon may be used. Notably, if using a colon in your sample usage, the word that immediately follows should be capitalized since it starts a new sentence.

    The research centre will use confidence intervals as well as numerical probabilities to to convey their findings. For example: Average surface temperatures will increase by two degrees by 2020 (95% confidence interval).

  • Colons are generally unnecessary. They sit in a liminal space between commas and periods. No one will miss them if you don't use them. Many books contain colons only on the copyright page. Yet the first book I grabbed to check doesn't have any colons on that page.

  • Semantically, your sample doesn't make sense because it's supposed to include "confidence intervals as well as numerical probabilities", but the "example" has neither. Confidence intervals would be expressed as ranges (eg, 1-3 degrees) or errors (eg, ± 1 degree). Probabilities would be expressed as percentages (eg, 75%), fractions (eg, 3/4), or ratios (eg, 3:1).

    I would avoid using an example this way because it is meant to illustrate how data will be presented, yet appears like actual data. This potentially misleads readers into believing fictitious data.

    The example sentence is also unclear. 2020 is about a month away. Is this 2-degree rise supposed to occur during the next month? Over this past year? Or some other period of time?

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  • My example is completely fictitious (the structure mimics my real example). I would upload my actual example, but once I submit my report for marking it would be flagged for plagarism (as the example is contained within my report). I have copied my intended example above and will later reword it. What do you think? Nov 13, 2019 at 6:38
  • Your new sample usage (with comma) looks much better to me. There's still potential to mislead the reader if fictitious data is used. You can ameliorate this by using real data (including citation) or truncating it to the bare essential, eg, "very likely (>90%)". If the word number associations are known, you could skip the phrase "for example” and say, " according to the following table." Then you have the option to use a colon or period before showing the table.
    – xiota
    Nov 13, 2019 at 7:01
  • I have added a citation from where the statement originated. Thanks for your help! Nov 13, 2019 at 7:16
  • Since the citation is the same, it just needs to be mentioned once at the end of the paragraph. The question doesn't really make sense as currently written because it refers to colon usage that doesn't exist. Perhaps you could restore the original sample and move the new one into an addendum at the end of the question.
    – xiota
    Nov 13, 2019 at 7:39
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    It depends on the style guide you're using. Usually, cite at the end of the paragraph if the citation applies to the entire paragraph. Cite a sentence or statement if the citation applies only to that. If you find yourself using the same citation for consecutive sentences, the citation probably should be combined as well.
    – xiota
    Nov 16, 2019 at 0:28

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