FW: Items in a Series and Comma Use?

Subject: FW: Items in a Series and Comma Use?
From: "Barbara Philbrick" <caslon -at- alltel -dot- net>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 30 Jan 2006 20:39:17 -0500

Ironically, I am working with a bunch of American English as second language
folks (Swedish, French, Indian, and British ;), and they all disagree with
adding the serial comma; this issue came up early in our style guide
discussions. I was the only one who argued for it --- I decided a long time
ago that it was a lot easier to add the silly thing in all instances to
prevent confusion. I do add it to their texts when the structures are
particularly cumbersome, but they consistently leave it out, even in complex

They also uniformly dislike putting periods and commas inside quotes, though
they had never noticed that American standards are to do this before I
started editing their docs.

They also take out "that" in structures such as "The rules [that] you define
might depend on the type of data [that] you are importing." I had understood
(based in large part from the article "Improving Translatability and
Readability with Syntactic Cues" by John R. Kohl) that non-native speakers
would be helped by this construction, but my non-native speakers take it

I have found that "ing" endings produce more confusion than anything else
for this group.

Still fighting for the serial comma,


-----Original Message-----
From: techwr-l-bounces+caslon=alltel -dot- net -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
[mailto:techwr-l-bounces+caslon=alltel -dot- net -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com] On Behalf Of
Nuckols, Kenneth M
Sent: Monday, January 30, 2006 12:35 PM
To: John Bartol; techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Subject: RE: Items in a Series and Comma Use?

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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