RE: Items in a Series and Comma Use?

Subject: RE: Items in a Series and Comma Use?
From: "Nuckols, Kenneth M" <Kenneth -dot- Nuckols -at- mybrighthouse -dot- com>
To: "John Bartol" <johnbartol -at- shaw -dot- ca>, <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 30 Jan 2006 12:35:14 -0500

John Bartol wrote...

> You know, Al, I agree with you about this and the other examples to
> which you replied. According to the 'rules', there should be no
> confusion as to the intent of the sentences.
> But...
> It's a simple fact that people in general do not always know all of
> rules. The use of the final comma, while redundant when following the
> traditional rule, serves to eliminate confusion over the intent of the
> sentence.
> Personally, I use the final comma if it makes the sentence more
> understandable; sometimes I just reorganize the sentence... it depends
> on the subject matter, the audience, and (if it exists) the style
> The important thing for me is to ensure that there is *no* potential
> confusion in the final product -- that's what really matters in the
> final analysis.

To further emphasize John's point, Al and other "old school" journalists
need to realize that we increasingly write for an audience that includes
more and more non-native readers and speakers of English. Whether we
like it or not, whether it confuses us or not, never has been and never
should be acceptable to dictate the way we wish to document something.
In the case of the current discussion, we always have to presume that
there's some non-native reader who was taught the classic "academic
English" rule that omitting the comma meant the items represent a single
unit (i.e. peanut butter and jelly).

The manager of my department (my editor) comes from the same journalism
background as Al and other "when in doubt leave it out" proponents and
prefers not using the comma. However, there are enough situations where
there is a legitimate chance of misinterpretation (especially by
non-native readers) that more often than not we leave the final comma
in. When the comma is omitted from a book dedication it may be cause for
humor in ivory tower circles; if the comma is omitted from the
instruction manual used by a non-native transmission technician,
someone's car might come to a sharp and unexpected stop in the middle of
the freeway--and there's nothing funny about that.

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