5 simple comma rules to live by

Compound sentences, series, and appositives are just some of the grammatical elements that employ this helpful piece of punctuation.

Whether you are writing press releases, blog posts, or online content, it’s important that you have a decent grasp of punctuation. No one’s asking you to be a grammar god; after all, the days of college term papers are long gone. However, there are certain rules that simply make your writing more readable.

So today I’d like to focus on the comma. It’s one of those little punctuation marks that too often are haphazardly thrown into text with no real purpose. Sometimes it’s used where it isn’t necessary, and other times it’s omitted when it should be present.

Now, you could get out your old grade-school grammar book and try a quick refresher on those comma rules, but that would prove more frustrating than anything else.

Instead, I’ve narrowed down the comma rules to those you will find most useful in your business writing.

1. If you combine two full sentences with a conjunction, you need a comma. What makes a sentence? A subject and a verb. In other words, an object and an action. If you have two complete sentences, you must combine them with a conjunction (the most common of which are and, but, and or). In this case, there needs to be a comma before the conjunction.

Example: John writes press releases, and Jill writes business blogs.

2. If you begin your sentence with an introductory phrase, you need a comma. These phrases often begin with words such as after, although, as, when, if, because, and even. A comma should separate the introductory phrase from the independent clause.

Example: Although I am adept at writing press releases, I need assistance in sending them out to news outlets.

3. If you include a series of nouns in your sentence, set them off with commas. A list of items in a sentence can get tricky without correct comma placement. Use commas to separate each item in the list. Now, whether you use a comma prior to the last item is up to you; there’s no hard rule on it.

Example: Press releases, blogs, and Web content are all useful for your small business.

4. If you include extra information, set it off with commas. Sometimes you will include extra description of a noun in your sentence. I call it “extra” because it simply is not necessary. If you removed it, you’d still have a good, sensible sentence. Set this information off with commas.

Example: Bill, who is a pretty decent writer, handles all my business blogging needs.

5. If you have a quotation in a sentence, you need a comma. Some people have a habit of just adding quotes in the middle of a sentence without setting them off with commas. This doesn’t work. If your quote calls for a comma at the end, make sure it’s inside the quotes.

Example A: Bill told his friend, “Business blogging is all about thinking outside the box.”

Example B: “I really need to get this press release sent out,” Bill said.

Yes, there are more comma rules, but I’d say these are the most important. Agree? Disagree? Let me know.

Mickie Kennedy is the CEO and founder of eReleases and blogs at PR Fuel, where this article first appeared.

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