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Writing Tip: Save the Oxford Comma


I won’t say that I am the worst at using commas, but I will say that commas are not frequently used in my writing. Except as it pertains to the Oxford Comma where it is religiously used. My writing style tends to follow patterns of speech rather than any strict form, so a lot of commas get left behind. I think of commas as a way to help the reader understand when to pause: if the idea being expressed seems obvious without it, I leave it out. Even when handy dandy Word gives me the blue squiggle telling me something is wrong.


I'm interested in getting better as a writer, so I have picked up a number of editing books and am taking an editing course. The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition spends 20 pages discussing commas in great length. Here are just a few best practices I’ve added to my repertoire:


Use commas to separate for clarity or ease of reading: “Let’s eat, Grandma” is not the same as “Let’s eat Grandma!”


Use commas to separate adjectives before a noun with equal descriptive weight. If you can put the word “and” between the adjectives, then use commas: “She carried the small blue pebble in her cold, pruny hands.”


Use commas with two independent clauses separated by a coordinating conjunction (i.e. and, but, so, yet, etc.): “I tried to go, but she wasn’t ready,” versus “She set down the paper so that she could pick up her coffee.”


Where do commas trip you up? Leave me a comment and let me know!

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