You’re probably familiar with the serial comma – also known as the Oxford comma – whether you realize it or not. It’s the comma that appears before a single conjunction when listing a series of items, like in this example from Strunk and White’s famous reference book, The Elements of Style:

“He opened the letter, read it, and made note of its contents.”

Many publications in the U.S. do not use the serial comma, preferring to follow AP Stylebook guidelines which do not require it. Using it (or not) is generally up to your personal preference.

From a writer’s perspective, I love the serial comma! It lends itself to clearer sentences and less ambiguity.  I love the clean way it separates a list.

For example, let’s say you’re advertising the programming at your studio. Which sentence more clearly states what you offer?

  1. “We offer dance, music, and tumbling.”
  2. “We offer dance, music and tumbling.”

In my mind there’s no question that Sentence #1 is easier to understand. At a glance, Sentence #2 makes me wonder if music and tumbling are part of the dance program.

The serial comma may seem like an unimportant detail compared to other matters of grammar, but it can have major consequences for the readability of your website content, marketing materials, or training manuals. There was even a court case in March 2017 where the lack of a serial comma was the deciding factor in a labor dispute. Wowza! 

My advice? Use the serial comma most of the time, with few exceptions. Small detail, big impact.