Writing Tips

Punctuation and Numbers

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The Answer Is, 'Yes, always!'

To Use or Not to Use the Oxford Comma, That is the Question!

The Question? “Should I use the Oxford comma?”

Controversy swirls around this question. First, the definition: The “Oxford comma,” sometimes called the “serial comma,” is the comma that appears just before the last “and” in a series.

If a company fails to address legal, accounting[,] and process issues properly, then the IPO might violate SEC regulations.

I don’t understand the controversy. Confusion might arise when we don’t use it; nothing is lost when we do use it. So why wouldn’t we use it? Consider this sentence:

John, Sylvia and I drafted the contract. 

This says that Sylvia and I drafted the contract, and that we are letting John know. (We compound the confusion, if we are writing to a client coincidentally named John.) If I mean that the three of us drafted the contract, then I should have written the sentence like this:

John, Sylvia[,] and I drafted the contract. 

Another reason to use the Oxford comma: frequently, we write a series of items, one or more of which includes an “and,” so placing the comma before the last “and” informs the reader that the last item in the series is not part of the previous item.

SeaFloor offers a variety of offshore energy production support, including workover services, fluid and logistics, fishing and drilling[,] and leasing vessels. 

The last reason we use the Oxford comma is to avoid unintended humor:

The only people I listen to are my brothers, Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern.   

When we leave out the Oxford comma, we gain nothing, and we risk confusing our reader.

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About Gary Kinder

Gary Kinder

WordRake founder Gary Kinder has taught over 1,000 writing programs for AMLAW 100 firms, Fortune 500 companies, and government agencies. He’s also a New York Times bestselling author. As a writing expert and coach, Gary was inspired to create WordRake when he noticed a pattern in writing errors that he thought he could address with technology.

In 2012, Gary and his team of engineers created WordRake editing software to help writers produce clear, concise, and effective prose. It saves time and gives confidence. Writing and editing has never been easier.

WordRake takes you beyond the merely grammatical to the truly great—the quality editor you’ve always wanted. See for yourself.

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How Does it Work?

WordRake is editing software designed by writing expert and New York Times bestselling author Gary Kinder. Like an editor or helpful colleague, WordRake ripples through your document checking for needless words and cumbersome phrases. Its complex algorithms find and improve weak lead-ins, confusing language, and high-level grammar and usage slips.

WordRake runs in Microsoft Word and Outlook, and its suggestions appear in the familiar track-changes style. If you’ve used track changes, you already know how to use WordRake. There’s nothing to learn and nothing to interpret. Editing for clarity and brevity has never been easier.