So I think the an infraction can be viewed as follows;
- A low level punishment for breaching forum/site rules.
- A low level warning to stop breaching forum/site rules.
- A combination of both.
There's also the effect that a punishment has versus the effect that a warning has. For instance a warning will often de-escalate a situation whereas a punishment will often escalate it. The reason for this is that with a warning the receiver losses nothing, but the whole point of a punishment is that the receiver has lost something of value or gained something of negative value.
Looking through my own list of infractions I about half are warnings and half are attempts at punishment. I know from personal experience which ones are more effective. On certain forums I post on the moderators have gone to lengths to point out that infractions are merely warnings and not to be taken personally. While on other forums such as soccer infractions are certainly seen as the third category.
Something which is immediately obvious when I looked at the trends is that the moderators who viewed their role as care taker tended towards warnings while the moderators who viewed themselves as "the law" tended towards punishment. It's an interesting juxtaposition I've not thought deeply about before.