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Once and for all: how to use the comma

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I once filled out an anonymous survey at work. My manager knew which one was mine. I asked him how he knew. He said it was the only one where everything was spelled and punctuated correctly.

That isn’t a slam on my co-workers, each of whom is a very intelligent person who communicates wonderfully in everyday informal speech. It’s just that my writing is better because I care more about it. My attitude is: if we want to be understood, we have to communicate clearly, even in writing; if we want to be taken seriously, we have to communicate clearly, even in writing; and if we want to think clearly, we have to communicate clearly, even in writing.

Even on Internet, where nobody knows you’re a dog, the way you present yourself and your language matters. It may matter even more online than in real life, because the way you use language is pretty much all you’ve got.

Consider this, too, while we’re at it: we’re NLPers. Neuro-Linguistic Programmers. As I’ve heard John Lavalle say, Linguistics is our middle name. If we’re going to call ourselves NLPers, we should pay attention to the L.

Today at Dumb Little Man, one of my favorite blogs, they posted an article on how to use the comma. There’s a great place to start. Here’s the list:

  1. To glue two sentences together
  2. To give additional information
  3. Writing a series of three or more words or phrases
  4. Non restrictive phrases
  5. Demanding a pause
  6. Setting off direct quotations
  7. After conjunctive adverbs
  8. Set off a direct address
  9. Parenthetical phrases

For a fuller explanation and some good examples, go read The DumbLittleMan Guide to Comma Use.

Incidentally, here’s another good, albeit short, article from Dumb Little Man: Impress Your Clients, Boss and Colleagues: How To Improve Your Business Writing

As I come across more goodies like this, I intend to post them. If you’ve got a favorite article on the use of, say, semicolons, apostrophes, or quote marks, drop me a note in the comments.

Written by Michael DeBusk

October 23rd, 2009 at 6:51 pm

Posted in Linguistic,Writing

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