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The Oxford Comma Argument Rages On

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017 by Chris

Should the Oxford comma be the hill that you die on?

Should the Oxford comma be the hill that you die on?

“Nothing, but nothing—profanity, transgender pronouns, apostrophe abuse—excites the passion of grammar geeks more than the serial, or Oxford, comma,” according to The New Yorker. Much like asking creative types if they put one space or two after a period, demanding they pick a side in the serial-comma debate can spark fistfights, especially now that we’ve learned a misplaced comma could cost your company millions of dollars. While there’s no definitive answer to the Oxford comma question, working with content-development experts can reduce comma-related freak-outs.

Before going any further, a refresher: An Oxford or serial comma is placed after the penultimate item in a list of three or more items, like this: gin, vodka, and rum. People who don’t like extraneous punctuation prefer to dispense with the second comma: gin, vodka and rum. However, if the series of items could be confusing without that second comma, then even non-Oxford-comma adherents will add one in. In these cases, the lack of a comma could cause head-scratching moments of confusion, like the oft-cited (and probably hypothetical) example, “This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God.” (Could have used a comma after “Ayn Rand.”)

The pro/con Oxford comma debate surfaced in mid-March following a U.S. Court of Appeals decision in favor of Oakhurst Dairy truck drivers seeking overtime pay. State law says that overtime does not apply to, “The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of (1) Agricultural produce; (2) Meat and fish products; and (3) Perishable foods.”

The case hinged on the lack of a comma after “shipment.” The dairy said “distribution” (that is, driving and delivering) was part of the exemption, which meant the drivers shouldn’t get overtime. The truck drivers argued that since “packing for shipment or distribution” appeared to be the same activity, the overtime exemption didn’t apply, so they were owed money. But without that Oxford comma, the judge decided the language was ambiguous enough that the drivers’ case should be heard in a lower court.

Yes, the case has been a joy for grammar and punctuation nerds, but it again raises the question: Do you need that Oxford comma? The answer depends on which style guide you (or your content development experts) prefer. The Associated Press Stylebook calls for omitting the Oxford comma (unless needed for clarity). The Chicago Manual of Style is pro-Oxford comma. At The New Yorker, copy editors consider use of the Oxford comma a sacred responsibility: “ … it is a copy editor’s duty to deploy the serial comma, along with lots of other lip-smacking bits of punctuation, as a bulwark against barbarianism.” OK, then.

Among Content Bureau editors and writers, opinions also vary. I started my career in newspapers and stuck closely to AP style, therefore, no Oxford comma. I came around a few years ago when I was realized it was easier to tell clients (and other writers whose work I edit) to simply add the extra comma and end the arguments about whether the sentence required extra punctuation. Just add the comma and be done with it, I say.

No matter our personal quirks about serial commas, when the Content Bureau works with clients, we’ll adhere to chosen style guidelines—or in the absence of a preference, ensure that commas are used consistently throughout a document. Who knows, maybe we’ll save you from a costly comma-induced lawsuit.

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Vector or Raster = Huh?

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017 by Michelle

You’ve received a request for a vector logo file from the Content Bureau’s graphic designer. If you’re confused about what that means, and about the difference between image file types, you’re not alone. Let’s chat about these two image file types—vector and raster—and discuss how each is used for various marketing collateral. Vector Files Vector […]

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Be a Superstar Reviewer: Four Tips for Getting What You Want from Your Copywriter

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017 by Ruth

All marketing managers want to get the most from their copywriting budgets. When you hire the Content Bureau, we’ll typically ask you to review up to three drafts of copy. Is there a right way to review B2B copy? Absolutely! For best results, make your feedback the following: Timely. Just like a box of cereal […]

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Give It 20! Or, How to Jump-Start Any Project.

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017 by Lucy A.

February is the month where winter goes to die. Sparkling, soft snow has dwindled into gray, crusty blobs, and weary people trudge through their days with little, personal clouds hovering overhead. Gone is that rush of energy delivered in New Year’s happy grasp. It takes all we have to finish that white paper, let alone […]

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How to Write an Award-Winning Tagline

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017 by Laurel

Part three of a three-part series. One of the most fun categories to judge at the 2016 LIA Awards was taglines (endlines). This was because—as we say in the naming biz—we had seven words rather than seven letters to play with and consider! The taglines we reviewed were mostly from advertising campaigns, both print and […]

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The Best Valentine’s Day Blog Posts of All Time

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017 by Stacy

As you might guess from looking at our website, or my stationery collection, or my closet—freakishly awash in red and pink, with a dash of metallic glitter—Valentine’s Day is my favorite holiday. This giant painting in my home office sets the tone for my entire life. If there is one word I would have tattooed […]

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Words to Watch: The Stocking-Size Style Guide

Thursday, December 22nd, 2016 by Dave

We love creating editorial style guides and brand guidelines because they can help a company to produce more effective content for years. These references can be especially helpful for people in your organization who produce content but don’t count writing as a core skill. But not all companies want or need a comprehensive new guide. […]

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Copy Blocks: Really, What Can’t They Do?

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016 by Lisa S.

At the Content Bureau, we produce a lot of marketing assets. A few are crucial but short-lived one-offs, for events or other special occasions. Most—like web copy, case studies, and infographics—are designed to serve your business for much longer, in a variety of situations. And then there are copy blocks. As the name implies, they’re […]

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How to Write Award-Winning Copy

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016 by Laurel

Part two of a three-part series. As I mentioned in my previous post, I was recently invited to join the judges of the Verbal Identity panel of the 2016 LIA Awards. Now that the LIA winners for Verbal Identity have been announced, we can examine why those Gold and Silver winners took the honors. I […]

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Why the Best Bylined Articles Are a Team Effort

Friday, November 18th, 2016 by Chris

I’ve never liked pure “ghostwriting”—that is, writing all of the words under someone else’s name without any input from the person who’s actually taking the credit. I’m not annoyed that I don’t share the spotlight. I just think that writing falls flat when there’s no authentic input from the “author.” This is especially true when […]

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