Writing for Business

Jan 7 2009   8:44PM GMT

Writing for Business — comma in a series rule

Margaret Rouse Margaret Rouse Profile: Margaret Rouse

typing Which is correct?

Companies have been pressuring the Chinese government for years to crack down on the piracy of movies, _____________.
a. music and computer software
b. music, and computer software

Answer: a


This one is controversial. The rule is that to avoid confusion when a sentence has a series of three or more words (or word groups), the writer should use commas to separate items in the series.  The big question is “should you use a comma before the word and at the end of the series?”

If you agree that the comma stands in for the word “and” — then the answer is no.  You wouldn’t say “Companies have been pressuring the Chinese government for years to crack down on the piracy of movies and music and and computer software.”

3  Comments on this Post

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  • BobYoung
    You're right; it is a controversial rule. Purdue Universiy takes the opposite position. See this link and scroll down to the section on commas in a series: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/grammar/g_commaproof.html Sorry, but I'll take Purdue over you. Nevertheless, this has been a great series on business writing. Thanks very much!
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  • Jlanett
    Bob, I can't tell you how many arguments we've had over the serial comma (also known as the Oxford comma). When I was in school, Strunk and White's Elements of Style were gospel -- but the AP Style Guide dropped the serial comma and the trend seems to be growing. I guess the exception would be if omitting the comma changes the meaning of the sentence. "I dedicate this blog to my parents, Steve Jobs and Grace Hopper." Yep, you'd need a comma there for sure!
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  • BobYoung
    Thanks for the reply, Margaret. I've been thinking about this one off and on over the last few days, asking myself, "If I was writing this instructional guide, how would I handle it?" By the way, I teach college technical courses, but not English. My conclusion was that I wouldn't take a stand. I would start, like you did, by pointing out that it is controversial, and then I would cite references for both positions. Call me chicken! :-)
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