Ever since reading the book Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui by Karen Kingston, I've been on the lookout for clutter in my life.
Awhile back, I started noticing this remote control for the inner door of my building's underground garage. The remote was rusty, cracked and I feared the battery inside was probably grossly corroded. At the same time, that garage door has been permanently open for years, and we've had a whole other system installed.
So I did the same thing I've done with other clutter. I got rid of it.
Well, a few weeks ago I got a memo – guess what? They're putting that door opener system into place again and there will be a deposit cost of $50-$100 for a new remote control. Yikes!
What does this have to do with the serial comma?
The serial comma (also known as the Oxford comma), is what appears before the last item in a list (e.g., she prefers apples, pears, and bananas). I don't use a serial comma when I write or edit. I think a sentence looks cleaner – less cluttered – without it.
And yet, as I write in the Style Guide, "sometimes, for clarity, it's wise to use the serial comma." I don't have specific rules for when I include it, it's usually entirely subjective when I've noticed that a sentence just doesn't "look right" without it.
It happened in the recent December 2009 issue of VOICE, the newsletter of the International Association of Coaching, where President-Elect Bob Tschannen-Moran listed some of the accomplishments of our outgoing President, Angela Spaxman.
Our intrepid and generous proofreader (Elizabeth Nofziger of Fresh Vision Coaching) added a serial comma to the second last bullet point, commenting, "I know we don’t put commas at the end of a list but it seems appropriate here." I agreed, and I'd almost put it in there myself.
So be careful before you dismiss something as clutter – you never know when you might actually need it. Just don't use that as an excuse to bury your creativity under a mountain of clutter!
For more information about the serial comma, plus more grammar and writing tips for coaches, please check out my book, The Customizable Style Guide for Coaches Who Write.