PR and writing professionals of all walks of life are surely familiar with the ongoing debate that follows the Oxford, or serial, comma. For those who may be unfamiliar, the Oxford comma is one that precedes the “and” in a series.
Some people adore this particular punctuation mark, while some detest this small, seemingly insignificant curved line. The two groups tend to break out into followers of The Chicago Manual Of Style and The Associated Press Stylebook, respectively. And still there are others like The Onion, who simply enjoy the debates this comma often spurs.
I was recently asked what I thought about this little piece of punctuation. So here goes.
I will say that generally speaking, I am opposed to the Oxford comma. I think that 99 percent of the time it's unnecessary, bulky and redundant. After all, "and" equally signifies the last item in a series or list, so why the need for both – especially in the case of a short, direct list? Not to mention that clear and succinct writing is gold in the PR industry. Why would I want to clutter it up with what is, essentially, an optional piece of copy?
That being said, I am not opposed to throwing an Oxford comma into the mix if it will help clarify an otherwise lengthy or confusing sentence. This is the other side of the clear-and-succinct coin. While it’s important to be concise, it’s equally, if not more, important to be clear. If the addition of one little comma helps someone read a sentence more easily and clearly, I’m all for it.
Consistency is another key factor here. Whichever way you lean, just be sure you’re consistently using (or not using) the Oxford comma. I think we can all agree that the point of punctuation is to make a sentence more easily understood.
Literary writing and journalism are two very different styles of writing, and I think it's perfectly okay for various professionals to use that comma differently. I’m not really sure why some feel there needs to be one over-arching rule for all styles of writing. Can’t we all just get along?