It can be a scary choice, and should not be taken lightly. It’s a question that has been asked by many a many noble man (or woman): To use a serial comma or not? That is the question. The answer lies in which style guide you choose.
You may be thinking “Why can’t we just create a universal style guide with multipurpose usage?” If only life were that easy. Each style guide serves its own specific purpose. If you are doing any writing for a business or organization, I highly recommend brushing up on the different style guides and knowing how to chose the appropriate format.
So, what exactly is a written style guide?
A style guide is a set of standards for writing. A style guide will tell you which words to capitalize, how to properly abbreviate words, how to select the correct punctuation marks, and, perhaps the most hotly debated of all topics in grammar, whether or not to use the oxford comma, or serial. Read on to learn more.
Most journalist and public relations professionals use AP Style, or Associated Press Style. Most press releases are written in AP Style, as well as most news articles and many magazines you may read. It is critical for public relations professionals to write in the same style as journalists, because it keeps the amount of editing to a minimum when it comes to sending press releases.
MLA Style, you will always have a special place in my heart. I was first introduced to you possibly as early at seventh grade. I bought your style guide at my teachers’ insistence. I studied your ways, and perfected my social studies papers according to your style. I’m afraid it was all in vein, for now I live by AP Style.
MLA Style, also known as Modern Language Associated Style, is primarily used in academics, literature and humanities. The good thing about MLA Style? It helps writers correctly identify their sources to protect them from being accused of plagiarism.
Chicago Style is widely used by social science publications, historical journals, book publishers and authors. The Chicago Manual of Style has strong supporters because of it’s strong attention to detail (it often covers topics that other style guides leave out) and the respect it has earned as one of the country’s oldest style guides, published by the University of Chicago Press since 1906.
Now, what about the serial comma? Many find it an unnecessary, even outdated, practice. Others argue that it reduces ambiguity (see examples above and below). Some say it is a grammatical choice, not a question of style. And in case you are lost as to what a serial comma even is, it is the three commas used in a list, as in “lions, tigers, and bears!” Without a serial comma, it is “lions, tigers and bears!”
Let us know which you choose in the comments section below, and why.