Wednesday, June 3, 2009

To Comma or Not to Comma, That Is the Question

To Comma or Not to Comma, That Is the Question

Last weekend, I was chatting with a Toastmasters friend who happens to be a Realtor. She's a very interesting woman who's had a colorful professional life. We were talking at a party, and she told me about a man she had worked for who refused to use commas ANYWHERE in his writing because he believed they could cause readers to misconstrue his meaning. My response to her was that your writing can just as easily be misconstrued without commas.

I learned this in a technical writing class almost 20 years ago. An actual lawsuit was filed over the distribution of money in a will because the will stated that the money would be shared evenly between "Jim, Jan and Carol" as opposed to "Jim, Jan, and Carol." As a result, Jim got half, and Jan and Carol split the other half.

Whether or not to use that comma before the and/but is an old debate, but this example settled it for me. Journalistic writing that follows the AP Style Manual still omits that comma – and loses clarity, in my opinion. When I'm editing for AP style, I adhere to the "no comma before the and/but" rule. In all other writing, I use it.

What does this have to do with YOUR business? Nothing – unless you want your docs to be clear and easy to understand!

Suggested reading on commas: Commas Are Our Friends, by Joe Devine.


For answers to your questions about writing, editing, marketing, or design e-mail Laura or visit Write |
Market | Design, where we specialize in teaching our writers to think like marketers!

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