Serial comma (Oxford comma)

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Commas seem to cause a lot of dismay among writers and subs generally. Their purpose, how they work, where to place them seems to cause unending consternation. I think that might be one reason there is some hostility to adding an extra comma before the conjunction to a series of three or more.

But, for technical writing, I believe it is imperative. There is no way around it; it removes all ambiguity to a list that is being described in a sentence. In technology and especially with a lot of new terms or terms that might not be overly familiar to a reader, it is very important that a clear distinction is made between every object in a series. This is why we, tech writers, like lists so much.

There are a lot of funny examples on why the serial comma is a good thing. Lynn Truss offers this up on it:

There are people who embrace the Oxford comma and people who don’t, and I’ll just say this: never get between these people when drink has been taken. Oh, the Oxford comma. Here in case you don’t know what it is yet, is the perennial example, as espoused by Harold Ross: “The flag is red, white, and blue.”

Lynn Truss goes on to say that she is ambiguous to it. Sometimes it’s a good thing and sometimes it doesn’t add anything is the gist of her opinion on it. But, in technical writing I think it should always be used. Why? 1) Because in a series it is the only way to completely avoid any confusion 2) If you have it as a rule, you are less likely to forget it. 3) Once you are in the habit of using it, it becomes second nature.

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