So you’re unsure of how to properly use the ampersand in your writing; heck, you’re not even sure what an ampersand is!

Let’s start with the basics: defining the term. An ampersand is a symbol, a sort of shorthand, for the word “and”. It looks thusly: &.

“Ah, so that’s what that thing’s called! I always called it the ‘and’ sign!”

Most people do; few people outside academia have a clue what you’re talking about when you use the term “ampersand,” much less how to properly use it.

“What? Wait, you mean there are actually rules governing the use of ampersands?”

Oh, please—aren’t there rules for everything in the English language, especially for academic usage?

The first and most cardinal rule for using ampersands is that they cannot be used within the text. In other words, it’s fine in your citations to have (Jones, J. & Smith, K., 1999) but you can’t write “In their work, Jones & Smith stated…” within your text.

Seems clear enough, right? Riiight…if only it were that easy! The ampersand can be used in the text if it’s part of a business name or the title of a book: “The law firm of Dewey, Cheatem & Howe…” or “In the 1980s, Dungeons & Dragons soared to popularity as a role-playing game.”

Okay, once again, this doesn’t seem too confusing–but wait! Let’s muddy the waters a bit! What if you have a laundry list of items, such as “classical, jazz, pop, country & western and rock & roll music”? Is the ampersand permitted then?

Of course! This is a long list of more or less related items, so you want to be sure that the reader knows that the multiple-word items belong together. This would be acceptable in both APA and MLA, the two most commonly used style manuals in academia.

“Well, what if I’m not writing a scholarly paper? How do I use the ampersand in fiction, for instance?”

Believe it or not, you follow the same basic rules. If it’s in the name of a business; title of a book, movie or game, or in a quote from, for instance, a fictional newspaper headline, you’re allowed to use the ampersand.

Does all this seem a bit confusing? Are you still not sure when, where and how you’re allowed to use the ampersand?

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