Tweak Your Personal Writing Style When Considering the Use of Commas

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Keep readers engaged in your story with smooth writing techniquessmiling girl wearing sunglasses leaning against wall with hand laying on her neckPhoto by frankie cordoba on Unsplash

Writers have their own unique way of expressing their thoughts. We use our words, instinct, feelings, opinions, and perspective to deliver what we hope will be a interesting and thought-provoking piece to readers. Because we want to keep them engaged — and coming back for more.

For example, my husband and I have very different writing styles. I think it’s because when we read to ourselves, the voice in our head sounds different to each of us. Even when reciting passages out loud to each other, our personalities become obvious. I’m more analytical, specific, detail-driven — getting to the point in as fluid a manner as possible. Hubby speaks his words with intention, thought, and purpose — pausing when a point needs to be made, understood, or driven home.

Which raises the question of when to use a comma

There are several punctuation guides on how, when, and where the use of a comma is appropriate and correct. And the purpose behind each is valid, depending on which works best for your style and the particular situation. Commas are an accepted tool of writing and considered necessary, depending on your sentence structure. For example, Grammerbook Punctuation Rules for Commas, Rule #13B indicates the use of a comma to separate dialogue from a tag line. But if you’re not using a tag line, commas can be an unruly annoyance if over-used.

Good use of a comma: “I think I understand what you’re saying,” she replied.No comma necessary: “I think I understand what you’re saying.” Her steady eyes and quivering lips revealed more than irritation.

While the above example may be clear and easy to understand, the use of a comma can often hinder the thought — or logic — of the idea being conveyed. The author may be attempting to sway you in a particular direction and, by using a comma, is attempting to solicit a specific point of view.

Here’s a comparison of two styles of comma useExample #1: What I meant to say is if it’s not obvious, the point can’t easily be made.Example #2: What I meant to say, if it’s not obvious, is the point can’t easily be made.

Which one resonates with you? In the first example, there’s a suggestion from the author that the reader may not get the point. In the second example, the reader can remove the phrase “if it’s not obvious” between the two commas and still have a complete thought, allowing for some blameless latitude in the thought being expressed. But that’s the analytical animal in me.

The subject of comma use is an important consideration, because we don’t always know how readers will absorb our words. And it’s up to us, as writers, to convey our meaning in a way that’s true and consistent to the story, the characters (if writing fiction), and to create emphasis where it belongs.

Ask yourself a few questions

Do you want readers to consider the logic of a statement, make a comparison between two or more ideas, or recognize the importance of the concepts expressed in the writing? Depending on your goal, you’ll need to determine when and where to use commas as break points. However, if your intent is to have the reader consider the entire thought expressed in a sentence, and then determine how it best fits into their personal perspective, consider using commas sparingly.

As professional writers, there are certain rules and guidelines we acknowledge and accept, with punctuation being near the top of the list. When I’m in doubt about the use of a comma to convey my message, I’ll check several sources, including Grammarly, Purdue University, or Grammerbook for a reality check.

What if you decide to stray from the rules? Well, I like to think of it as a personal writing style. Some folks ramble in passionate prose, others are precise and specific in their word usage, and a few of us bend the rules a bit on occasion — if only to entice our readers to remain engaged with the narrative in a way that’s comfortable for them.

Develop your personal style

Are you courageous enough to express your story in your own words, laced with your unique and personal touch? Or are you overly influenced by the rules, believing there’s only one correct way to structure your sentences? Here’s a suggestion: Write your story, your way. Be cognizant of what readers are expecting to see and understand. Then take them on a journey, one comma at a time.

© 2020 Jill Reid. All Rights Reserved.

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Jill Reid is the author of Real Life and founder of Pathway to Personal Growth. Her books and articles explore life, happiness, self-improvement, health, productivity, relationships, and personal success strategies for living longer and stronger through positive lifestyle choices.

Tweak Your Personal Writing Style When Considering the Use of Commas was originally published in The Writing Cooperative on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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  • October 29, 2020
  • NEWS