The Oxford Comma Debate

oxford comma debateThe Oxford comma is a polarizing piece of punctuation, and its use has even been disputed in the courtroom. The Oxford comma debate raged on in a class-action lawsuit where Oakhurst Dairy drivers were awarded $5 million for not receiving overtime pay from their employer. Maine law states workers must be paid 1.5 times their normal wage if they exceed 40 hours per week. The exceptions to this law included the following activities:

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

  1. Agricultural produce;
  2. Meat and fish product; and
  3. Perishable foods

The drivers claimed that “packing for shipment” and “distribution” were not two separate exemptions because there wasn’t a comma included before “or”. This meant that distribution on its own was not an exception to the law and merited overtime pay. The ambiguity that resulted by omitting the Oxford comma caused the judge to rule in favor of the drivers.

What Exactly is the Oxford Comma?

If a single comma can cost a company millions of dollars, the Oxford comma debate must be a big deal. Also known as the serial comma, the Oxford comma is a piece of punctuation placed just before a coordinating conjunction in a list of three or more items. There is little consistency to its use and it continues to spark controversy in the world of writing. Many American-style guides such as The Chicago Manual of Style advocate for the use of the comma, but the Associated Press Stylebook is one of the most noteworthy exceptions. Several publications only use it when it’s necessary to avoid confusion, and most foreign languages leave it out of their writing entirely.

Arguments In Favor

Many researchers, academics, and writers insist on using the Oxford comma in their work. Proponents of this comma believe that it improves the clarity of a sentence and should never be left out. Consider this example:

Without the Oxford comma: “After accepting the award, the director thanked his parents, Jeff Goldblum and God.”

With the Oxford comma: “After accepting the award, the director thanked his parents, Jeff Goldblum, and God.”

The absence of the Oxford comma in this example literally changes the meaning of the sentence. Without the comma, it could be wrongly assumed that the director’s parents are Jeff Goldblum and God. Placing the comma before “and” separates the two nouns and helps to avoid any misconception of meaning.

Another argument in favor of the Oxford comma is that it better mimics the cadence of a spoken sentence. Adding an extra comma before a conjunction represents the pause you would take while speaking, and many people would argue that it makes the meaning of a sentence more clear. Like the example above, failing to pause at the end of could make the listener believe that the final two items in the list are combined.

Arguments Against

The Associated Press, along with many journalists, are against the Oxford comma being a grammatical requirement. Opponents of the comma believe that it can make a piece of writing seem cluttered and even pretentious. A lot of these people think that including a conjunction is sufficient enough, and some would even say that including the extra comma belittles readers because the author assumes they have difficulty understanding longer sentences. Publishers also frown upon its use because it has the potential to take up page space, something that is incredibly crucial to conserve.

Some people would consider the Oxford comma in this example to be unnecessary:

Without the Oxford comma: “Mary went to the mall, the library and then to Jenny’s house.”

With the Oxford comma: “Mary went to the mall, the library, and then to Jenny’s house.”

In the example above, some would argue that the sentence is clear enough without the extra comma.      

One Key Takeaway

Whatever your stance is in the Oxford comma debate, remember to remain consistent in your writing. Only using the comma periodically could cause even more ambiguity and make your writing seem unprofessional. The comma is not yet a universal requirement, so pick a side and stick to it! 

Where do you stand in the Oxford comma debate? Share your opinion with us in the comment section below!

Stay up-to-date with the latest online marketing trends in our blog.

5 Reasons to Love SEO

It’s almost that time of year again. Hearts and roses will be abundant, and cupid’s little cherubic body will be firing off arrows towards romantics and lovers. Love is truly in the air, and it’s time for me to confess my love for…SEO. That’s right, my love for Google algorithms and long-tail keywords burns hotter than any summer day in Cancun. SEO was my first love (to my girlfriend, if you’re reading this, sorry darling) and it certainly has grown into a mutual love as I’ve learned the ins and outs of this search engine starlet. With Valentine’s Day rapidly approaching, here are a few reasons to love SEO.


5 Reasons to Love SEO

1. It’s Rewarding

One of the best things about SEO is that you’re able to actually track how you’re doing. Whether it’s building links or using keyword best practices, you’ll be able to see exactly how much your efforts are impacting your website. Various programs will allow you track the amount of traffic you have coming to your site, and there’s nothing better than seeing that number steadily rise from your efforts.

Another rewarding feeling is when you build links. Link building is another way to generate traffic to your site and is a staple in SEO. Since it often relies on building a relationship with another domain, it’s a great feeling when you’re able to a link from another site.

2. It’s Great Skill To Have

As a journalism major in college, I often was asked “What are you going to do? Don’t you know print is dying?” While it was a very valid question, SEO and marketing became a new outlet for using journalistic skills. Many who get into the SEO field actually come from writing, English, and journalism backgrounds. This new career is bringing many skilled writers into the field, allowing another option for post-gradation employment and providing another great reason to love SEO.

With SEO, I was able to put my writing skills to use, as well as learn the ins and outs of a new career that didn’t even exist a few decades ago.

3. It’s a Growing Field

While SEO is a highly competitive practice, the demand for those who have the skills or are willing to learn the skills is rapidly growing. Almost all major brands that have a website will have a marketing team, and that marketing will almost always have specialists that are adept in SEO. I love SEO because I know that I’m in a field that is in high demand, and the sooner you start digging into the practice, the better.

A way with words will always get you far in SEO. Not only are you communicating with Google algorithms, you’ll be communicating with other humans as well, so backgrounds in communications and public relations are also great skills to have.

4. It’s Never Too Late To Start

Another reason why I love SEO is because it’s never too late to start practicing good SEO techniques. Many assume that the bigger companies will remain at the top of the Google SERP (Search Engine Results Page) forever. However, a good SEO practitioner can help their site rise through the ranks.

On the other hand, just because you’re at the top today, does not mean that you’ll remain there tomorrow. One of the most exciting aspects of SEO is that it’s a constant practice. You always have room to grow so there’s never a shortage of making connections. Each day is an opportunity to attract more eyes to your website and to grow your brand.

5. Reading!

As an avid bibliophile, there’s never a shortage of new information coming down the pipe. Google is constantly changing how they rank pages and experts across the board are always weighing in and providing helpful tips and tricks for SEO. I love scouring the various blogs and SEO websites to find the latest news and other link-building tips to try out. I love SEO because it becomes a community of those who are trying to grow businesses. These entrepreneurs are boosting each other up so everyone can be successful. There’s never a shortage of information to take in, so those who love reading will surely enjoy an SEO career.