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Punctuation refers to a human ability to organize the continuous flow of experience into stories made up of interaction sequences with clear beginning and end points. Identified in the 1940s by Gregory Bateson during his development of a systemic description of human communication, the idea that people punctuate the same experiences differently provides both a way of making sense of misunderstandings and a basis for designing interventions. This entry offers a brief history of punctuation; distinguishes among different understandings of punctuation; and describes ways of helping couples, families, and professionals free themselves from rigid, ineffective patterns of punctuation.

Paul Watzlawick and his colleagues in the 1960s built on Bateson’s foundation, describing punctuation as one of five axioms that described the most important aspect of human communication ...

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