I just finished editing a 500-page proposal for a company who follows the journalists’ style manual, the Associated Press Stylebook (AP). AP stresses that writers should NOT use a comma before the conjunction in a series (known widely as a serial comma). For example, in this sentence, the final comma is a serial comma: “The end result was a premier golf course community on 225 acres of oak groves, open prairie, and marshlands.”
To be fair, AP does allow the serial comma for a “complex series.”
Here are the three main complaints that I have about the AP position on the serial comma:
- Of all the most popular style manuals, AP is the only one who does not require the serial comma.
- AP requires the author or editor to stop and make a decision about the complexity of a series of items. All the other style manuals allow authors and editors to just use the comma and save time and brain cells for more important issues in writing.
- A series without a serial comma may be confusing to the reader: “I ordered a hamburger, fries, cookies and ice cream.” [Is cookies and ice cream one product or two?] The serial comma would clarify that.
So, please, Navy Seals, can you just delete this provision from the AP Stylebook? It may not be as dramatic as recent successes, but it will save a lot of comma terror in America.