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Friday, April 13, 2012

Punctuation :-,?;!. | Stefanie Hollmichel, So Many Books

Hollmichel writes:
I must say I do like the idea of using comma-by-sound and I am sure I’ve used the method without actually realizing it.

While I can understand the comma use Hollmichel describes (especially in fiction), I'm concerned about the confusion that use can and does cause readers, writers, editors and teachers. If clear, consistent, common rules aren't followed for using commas--instead, basing their use on pauses a writer is trying to simulate through typography--how can people know what they mean?

The free-for-all pause "rule" is difficult to teach, evaluate or edit; any use of a comma could be considered correct if the writer says he or she wants the reader to pause in a certain place. But what if readers don't look at commas as pauses; instead, they consider them a grammatical device for structuring a sentence. And what about that use of commas as a grammatical device? If a writer uses them for both pausing the reader willy-nilly and structuring the grammar of a sentence, how might readers respond? With confusion, perhaps?

I'd say that if clarity, comprehension and understanding are essential--such as in nonfiction, academic, legal and business writing, follow the rules of comma use. And if you as an editor or teacher require a clear, consistent method to edit or teach comma use, follow the rules! I'd say following the rules in creative or fiction writing is also a good idea. But if you want to let your readers' minds wander and visualize your sentences and paragraphs, consider the pause method.

For more information, check out the eight general ways I suggest using commas in Garbl's Editorial Style Manual.

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