Reaching The Non-Comma Limit

Online business writing must be direct. Commas fight against that. I tell our writers to reduce them. One of our writers finally reached his non-comma limit, that is, where he should add a few commas back for variety. Taken too far, reducing commas makes writing sound robotic. I’m glad he pared down far enough to now build back up. He now knows his non-comma limit.

As to the subject in general, first drafts have too many commas and should be revised. Be aware, though, of any change in emphasis. Remember, too, that despite our desire to add or remove a comma, the first responsibility of a sentence is to make sense.

Before:

Once in office, Trump can quickly alter his Supreme Court agenda.

After:

Trump can quickly alter his Supreme Court agenda once in office.

The last word in the first sentence is agenda. The revised sentence’s last word is office. You may elect to keep a comma if you think a particular word must be emphasized or used last.

Comma-less sentences tend to be more direct and powerful. Some examples:

Later Sunday afternoon, demonstrators planned to assemble at Oakland’s Lake Merritt.

Demonstrators planned to assemble at Oakland’s Lake Merritt late Sunday afternoon.

In San Francisco, about 150 protesters congregated Saturday afternoon outside the Civic Center BART Station . . .

About 150 protesters in San Francisco congregated Saturday afternoon outside the Civic Center BART Station . . .

As participants assembled to march, a man walked by and jeered.

A man walked by and jeered as participants assembled to march.

Friday night in Oakland, about 100 people marching through downtown were monitored by police in riot gear.

About 100 people marching through downtown Oakland Friday night were monitored by police in riot gear.

On his way to find gold, Yosemite Sam found tungsten.

Yosemite Sam found tungsten on his way to find gold.

Since we couldn’t find our way back, we decided to take another path.

We decided to take another path since we couldn’t find our way back.

While I was eating, the cat scratched at the door.

The cat scratched at the door while I was eating.

Because her alarm clock was broken, she was late for class.

She was late for class because her alarm clock was broken.

If you are ill, you ought to see a doctor.

You ought to see a doctor if you are ill.

When the snow stops falling, we’ll shovel the driveway.

We’ll shovel the driveway when the snow stops falling.

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