Dynamic Marketing Communiqué

This comma caused legal ramifications in the past! Just imagine how crucial this punctuation is! [Tuesdays: “Write with the Pen of the Masters”]

June 22, 2021

A small comma can make a BIG difference in the meanings of sentences.

You want proof?

Take a look at these examples:

I dedicate this book to my parents, Ralph Waldo Emerson and God.
I dedicate this book to my parents, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and God.

The ice cream comes in an assortment of flavors including banana and strawberry,
strawberry and mango and blueberry.
The ice cream comes in an assortment of flavors including banana and strawberry,
strawberry and mango, and blueberry.

Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.
Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.

As you can see, the placement of commas before the coordinating conjunction “and” clarifies the meaning of the second version of the sentences.

Meanwhile, the absence of the punctuation in the first versions makes the statements confusing.

The differences between each pair are GLARING!

As a writer, you wouldn’t want to commit such errors in writing, would you?

To avoid confusion when enumerating a list of items in a sentence, make it a habit to use this type of comma:

The Oxford Comma!

Also known as the Serial CommaSeries Comma, or Harvard Comma, this punctuation is placed in a series of 3 or more items before the coordinating conjunctions “and” or “or.”

The primary function of an Oxford comma is to provide distinction between each item on a list, particularly the last 2 terms.

Here are some reasons why you should use the Oxford comma in content writing:

  1. It’s a standard for many publications and style guides.

    Just because this punctuation is called “Oxford comma,” that doesn’t mean it’s exclusive to the Oxford University Press alone.

    In fact, a lot of organizations and style guides use this “life-saving comma” such as:

    • The APA (American Psychological Association) Style – A format commonly used for academic articles, books, and journals.

    • The Chicago Manual of Style – A guide for several American publications, especially those in the social science and historical fields.

    • The MLA (Modern Language Association) Style Manual – A style book for those in the scholarly humanities, literary, or language studies.

    • The Elements of Style – A guide book co-authored by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White.

    • The US Government Printing Office Style Manual – A guide to the style and format of the US Federal Government printing and publishing.

    If these associations embrace the use of the Oxford comma in their writing styles and formats, that means this punctuation truly plays an important role in written content.

  2. It prevents ambiguity.

    The University of Oxford Style Guide states,

    “Always insert a comma in this position if it would help prevent confusion.”

    While you might think your readers will still be able to get what you mean without the Oxford comma in place, it’s best to always use it in your copies to ensure there isn’t any room for misinterpretation on your readers’ part.

    Are you aware of a few real-life examples where the absence of the Oxford comma led to legal ramifications and worldwide news?

    In 2013, media company Sky News caused confusion on Twitter when it enumerated a series of headlines in a single post.

    The tweet stated:

    “World leaders at Mandela tribute, Obama-Castro handshake and same-sex marriage date set…”

    If you were to read that post for the first time, you’d be confused―even alarmed, right?

    Take a look at the last 2 headlines:

    “… Obama-Castro handshake and same-sex marriage date set…”

    Without the Oxford comma in place, it’s hard to tell whether Obama and Castro just shook hands or were also planning a same-sex marriage!

    In another instance, Oakhurst Dairy’s delivery drivers in Maine received USD 5 million settlement in a lawsuit in 2014 after the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of them.

    The reason?

    The absence of the Oxford comma in legislative documents!

    According to the state law, workers in Maine are entitled to 1.5 times their normal pay if they work over 40 hours per week. However, there are exemptions to the rule.

    Companies don’t have to pay overtime for the following activities:

    The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:

    • Agricultural produce;

    • Meat and fish products; and

    • Perishable foods

    Oakhurst Dairy argued its drivers did not qualify for overtime pay because they engaged in “distribution.”

    However, the drivers insisted the law said no such thing. Without the Oxford comma, the law was read to exclude only “packing”―whether it was packing for shipment or packing for distribution. “Distribution” as a separate activity wasn’t exempted.

    The judge maintained the distinction in the law was not clear-cut. Therefore, the court ruled in favor of the delivery drivers.

    That’s a USD 5 million lesson Oakhurst Dairy would never forget!

    After that case, revisions were made to the legislative documents and the Oxford comma was added to make sure a similar scenario won’t happen again.

  3. It creates the right cadence.

    The Oxford comma doesn’t just prevent confusion. It also creates equal emphasis for all items on a particular list, especially when you’re speaking out loud.

    According to content marketing agency CopyPress.com, placing a comma before the last item on a list “creates a pause of equal weight to those that came before.”

    Think about it.

    If you’re reading a list out loud, you’d normally give a rising intonation to each item with a short pause after each, then a falling intonation to the last term.

    Commas are good visual signifiers of this natural way of speaking.

    Without the Oxford comma, it will sound as though the last 2 items are one, disrupting the way you normally speak.

  4. It eliminates an inappropriate connection between items on a list.

    Most of the time in content writing, each separate item in a list is important.

    When you take away the Oxford comma, you remove that sense of separation and importance and instead create a connection that might be inappropriate.

    One real-life example that demonstrates this came from a TV guide listing:

    “The highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year old demigod and a dildo collector.”

    See how confusing this sentence was?

    Without the Oxford comma, it sounded like Nelson Mandela is both an 800-year old demigod and dildo collector―which he isn’t!

So… what’s the bottomline of this article?

The Oxford comma is an invaluable part of grammar and writing.

While not everyone is religiously using this punctuation yet, that doesn’t mean you have an excuse to go without it in your copies.

Create quality content that is unambiguous, matches the natural tone of the English language, follows pre-existing grammar conventions, and prevents any unwarranted connections between any two items on a list!

By doing so, your readers will thank you for creating content that’s easy to understand.

Start using the Oxford comma in your next set of drafts!

About The Dynamic Marketing Communiqué’s
“Tuesdays: Write with the Pen of the Masters”

Who doesn’t find content writing to be a skill that requires a lot of practice and effort?

In fact, many people may even find copywriting very intimidating.

However, you can be a good writer as long as you have the right tools. You won’t always get things right the first time, but with enough time and practice, you’ll get the hang of it!

When you write a copy for any brand or for your company, your aim is to make an impact and…

…to get people to remember.

Getting people to remember means getting consumers to buy your product or to avail of your service.

And when you get your content to deliver the results you want, THAT is a great copy!

Every Tuesday, we publish content based on tips and insights from the masters of content writing, copywriting, and storytelling.

Become more familiar with ways to write great copy that helps you gain ROI from your efforts, drive profitability, and achieve your business goals.

Learn time-tested tactics that better capture the attention of your target audience, and maximize the benefits of great copywriting.

Hope you found this week’s insights interesting and helpful.

Stay tuned for next Tuesday’s “Write with the Pen of the Masters!”


Kyle Yu
Head of Marketing
Valens Dynamic Marketing Capabilities
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