Seven Ways to Check Commas When Self-Editing


Editing your work can often be a daunting task. However, there are some basic guidelines you can follow while writing and editing your work or that of others. It can make the process much less challenging. The following guidelines, as well as some accompanying examples, have been cited directly from William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White’s The Elements of Style: 50th Anniversary Edition, a definite must-read for every writer and editor!

1. Form the possessive of singular nouns by adding ‘s, unless it is the possessive of an ancient proper name.

For example: James’s house      Moses’ law

2. In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last. It is often referred to as the “serial comma.”

For example: apples, bananas, and grapes can be red, yellow, and purple

3. Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas.

For example: My brother, John Smith, is a well-known police officer. While we were on our way to New York, a tiring drive, to say the least, we stopped many times to enjoy the scenery.

4. Place a comma before a conjunction introducing an independent clause.

For example: The road was slippery, but we continued to drive to the movie theater. The house was a beautiful sight, and the gardens were magnificent.

5. Do not break sentences in two. Do not use periods for commas.

For example: Incorrect: She was an engaging speaker. A woman who had traveled all over the world and lived in half a dozen countries. Correct: She was an engaging speaker, a woman who traveled all over the world and lived in half a dozen countries.

Additional Punctuation

6. Use a colon after an independent clause to introduce a list of particulars, an appositive, amplification, or an illustrative quotation.

For example: Lisa’s grocery list contained three essential items: bread, milk, and eggs.

7. Use a dash to set off an abrupt break of interruption and to announce a long appositive or summary.

For example: His first thought on getting out of bed—if he had any thought at all—was to get back in again.

By no means are these seven items an exhaustive list of things to look out for while writing and editing. However, they are a good place to start. I will be sure to revisit this topic again in a future blog to highlight more items to take note of during the editing process. Hiring a professional editor, such as the editors at FirstEditing, can ensure that your document is perfect and ready for publication.

Editor specializing in Business Editing Services for FirstEditing

Originally posted 3/22/2010 and happily updated 11/15/2017. Thanks for reading!

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