Writing Practices: Oxford Comma

The Oxford Comma

“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.” ― Dr. Seuss

 

 If you’re just starting to read this post and are unsure what the Oxford comma is, don’t worry. Everything will make sense very soon.

 

What’s an Oxford Comma?

The Oxford comma separates lists with the extra comma before the “and” that precedes the final list item.

Example:

I’ll need some of my personal tools, duct tape, and a mask.

And without the Oxford comma it will look like this:

I’ll need some of my personal tools, duct tape and a mask.

 

So which one is correct? That’s a tough question, and it might be hard to answer. But if you read the second example without the Oxford comma, you may believe that the duct tape and mask are the narrator’s personal tools. Whereas the comma used in the first example clearly indicates that the tools are separate from the duct tape and mask. This indicates that narrator does not own the duct tape and mask, but does own personal tools. In this case, the reader might feel more comfortable with an Oxford comma, and while it’s not mandatory, it might help.

Sometimes it Doesn’t Matter

In the example in the video and the one I gave you, the Oxford comma is important. However, not all lists necessarily need an Oxford comma. If, for example, I want to list colors, and I say red, yellow and green, you’re going to understand what I’m saying and move right along. Of course, you could include the Oxford comma in that list and it would say the same thing. But when you’re making a list that can be confusing when the Oxford comma is not used, you can irritate and disorient the reader. And we definitely want to avoid doing that.

So should you use the Oxford comma or not?

Well, it’s totally up to you. Some hugely successful writers have used it, while others have skipped it entirely to keep the momentum up on their narrative. Both have worked, and both have failed. It really depends on your use of lists in sentences and whether you think an Oxford comma will clear up any confusion. That’s really all it is.

Consistency is More Important

Whether you choose to use the Oxford comma or feel it’s unnecessary, the key is to be consistent. Only using an Oxford comma sometimes can be worse than never using it. When writing, one should strive to create a consistent voice or writing style that works to create an image. You will have to commit to one writing style at some point. Take some time and decide whether the Oxford comma should be part of your style guide.

When I write and edit, I prefer to use the Oxford comma because it enhances overall clarity. I prefer not to take the risk. It should also be noted that when an agent or publisher is looking at your book, they will look for consistency and original patterns in your writing, but they’ll also look for simplicity and clarity, which adds up to better readability. The last thing you want is to have a reader hit a speed bump like a missing comma that throws them out of the story. Thus, I always use the Oxford comma.

I won’t be offended if you disagree. You should feel comfortable with your own writing style, and while there are guidelines you should always follow, the use of the Oxford comma is optional. At AMR Global Marketing, it’s our job to ensure you’re on the right track to getting readership and an audience that loves your writing. Believe it or not, every little detail counts, even the commas.

 

Charlie Michener

Charlie Michener, EditorCharlie is an editor who has worked with bestselling authors. Sporting an undeniable passion for writing and editing, he loves helping writers shine. With a bachelor’s degree in English at CSU Channel Islands and a meticulous eye for detail, Charlie believes in keeping the authors voice when polishing their story. Need your work edited? Click here to contact Charlie.

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