The punctuation mark comma

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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.

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