As punctuation devices go, commas are often the most useful. They separate the structural elements of a sentence into more manageable segments of information, preventing confusion. The rules surrounding comma use, however, can be vague and flexible. Unlike semicolons, for example, there are few hard-and-fast rules.
Most writers, including business writers, don’t use commas enough to make their writing easier to understand. Here are a few strategies to help make your writing perfectly clear:
Use a comma to:
1. Address someone directly:
Wrong: Thank you Sheila! or Will you commit James?
Right: Thank you, Sheila! or Will you commit, James?
2. Separate a sentence’s introductory clause:
Wrong: Yes I received the report.
Right: Yes, I received the report.
3. Separate a sentence’s contrasting elements:
Wrong: My role includes these responsibilities not yours.
Right: My role includes these responsibilities, not yours.
4. Separate two distinct clauses:
Wrong: Our department chose to support the Boys and Girls Club of America and Human Resources chose the Humane Society.
Right: Our department chose to support the Boys and Girls Club of America, and Human Resources chose the Humane Society.
Without the use of a comma, these sentence’s meanings are generally understood. However, with a comma, they are crystal clear and avoid any confusion.