Edits By Knight

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Things Your Editor Hates

Volume III: Misused Commas

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     Whether you’re writing or editing, one thing that causes major headaches is the proper usage of punctuation. Misplaced (or omitted) punctuation can cause confusion, which is one of the main reasons readers chunk books into their DNF (Did Not Finish) bin. In addition, if you’re freelancing as a ghostwriter or copywriter, repeated mistakes can lose you a client. Clients, publishers, or professors may have their own specific set of guidelines to follow, so it’s important to get a style sheet when writing for someone else.

     The narrative of a novel generally sticks to a standard, while dialogue has its own set of rules entirely. To make it even more complicated, the rules differ from style to style (for instance, in CMOS, the Oxford/serial comma is always needed, while AP Style omits it), and the rules can be bent in fiction—and thrown out altogether in poetry. However, as with all writing rules, you must know the law before you can break it effectively!

Commas: connecting your clauses, one phrase at a time

     Commas are one of the most ubiquitous forms of punctuation you’ll find—they’re everywhere! Commas have many uses; they connect, separate, and clarify your prose to make it easy to read and understand. It would take ages to explain all the different ways commas can be used… In fact, it took me all day to compile the information I’m sharing here, and I already had a document with the most common advice I give to clients!

     Even so, I’m sure I’ve left something out, so please feel free to shoot me an email at mcknight@editsbyknight if you think of something I missed so I can add it. Basically, my goal here is to give you a run-down of the basics so you can save your editor—and readers—the trouble of having to guess what you’re getting at.

The Dangers of Misusing Commas

     When a comma is used improperly or left out entirely, the result is CHAOS.

     Okay, maybe it’s not quite that deep. However, there are a multitude of issues that can be caused by the misguided placement/omission of a comma, including run-on (or “fused”) sentences, comma splices, and sentence fragments. I’ll talk more about these in a separate post, but just know that commas are of utmost importance to maintain clarity, keep up the pace, and improve readability.

     While commas can occasionally be used interchangeably with em dashes, it’s important to understand that a comma is not the same thing as a period. Ever. Commas are almost never used in places where you’d use a semicolon, either—the only exception is noted below, in the section on lists.

     While these are not all the different ways that commas can be utilized effectively, I hope this overview helps you gain a better understanding of the comma’s purpose in your prose. Be sure to check out the other installments of Things Your Editor Hates for advice on the technical aspects of writing, and visit my blog’s main page to find tips and tricks for editors, writers, and freelancers!

 As always, if you have any questions about this or any other post on my blog, please email me at mcknight@editsbyknight.com, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

Miko lives in North Alabama with their husband, Mark—two bright blue dots in a really red state. The pair have three cats, Henry, Louise, and Jefferson Twilight, and live the quiet and satisfying lives of two nerdy introverts. The work-from-home lifestyle is perfect for Miko, who was diagnosed with ADHD and autism in their late thirties.

     In their spare time, Miko enjoys gardening, playing the piano, singing, playing JRPGs, Tabletop gaming, and (of course) reading.

For more about me, visit my blog here.

Miko lives in North Alabama with their husband, Mark—two bright blue dots in a really red state. The pair have three cats, Henry, Louise, and Jefferson Twilight, and live the quiet and satisfying lives of two nerdy introverts. The work-from-home lifestyle is perfect for Miko, who was diagnosed with ADHD and autism in their late thirties.

     In their spare time, Miko enjoys gardening, playing the piano, singing, playing JRPGs, Tabletop gaming, and (of course) reading.

For more about me, visit my blog here.