Writing is nothing less than an art. It’s truly a talent to be able to tell a well-crafted story that resonates with your audience, whether you’re pitching a product for a business or creating a fictional world. One aspect of effective writing is your grammar and, within that, your punctuation usage. Learn how to use fewer commas when writing to improve your writing skills.
The comma is one of the most frequently used forms of punctuation, but has it become overused? Some would argue that it has. Commas can be helpful to break up your writing, but when you use too many of them, your writing actually becomes harder and less appealing to read. If you want tips on how to use fewer commas when writing, you’re in the right place. Here’s how to use fewer commas when writing.
Learn When They’re Actually Needed
Learning how to use fewer commas when writing is a large part of creating interesting content. Let’s dive into how to use fewer commas when writing. Before you can cut unnecessary commas out of your writing, you need to learn where they’re truly needed. In grade school, many of us are taught to use commas when you would naturally take a pause in your speech. While this rule works sometimes, it’s certainly not foolproof.
For example, if you’re breaking up a list, then commas are handy to separate the individual items. But if you simply have a long sentence that would require you to stop for a breath, then you may not need that comma.
In academic writing, different style guides may have different recommendations concerning comma usage. For instance, in a list, you may or may not see a comma before the final item, like in this example:
Her lunch contained a sandwich, a bag of chips, an apple, and a cookie.
Her lunch contained a sandwich, a bag of chips, an apple and a cookie.
Technically, both of these sentences are correct. The final comma, called the Oxford comma (or sometimes the serial comma), is surprisingly contentious in the world of linguistics and may or may not be necessary depending on the style guide you’re adhering to.
Another key time when a comma is needed is after an introductory word. If you’re starting a sentence with a short word or phrase like “Therefore,” “Next,” “Afterward,” “Thus,” or the like, a comma should follow.
This handy chart offers brief explanations of some of the most common instances of comma usage:
Choose Other Punctuation
Next step in learning how to use fewer commas when writing is to choose other punctuation. Part of learning how to use fewer commas when writing is learning how you can replace them. Semicolons and other forms of punctuation may be helpful here.
Let’s say you’re writing a compound sentence like so:
Richard was a handsome man, and that’s why she agreed to go on a date with him.
If you wanted to replace the comma with a semicolon, your sentence would look like this:
Richard was a handsome man; that’s why she agreed to go on a date with him.
You can also turn to the em dash to replace commas in some cases, particularly when you have an extra piece of information within a sentence. Take this sentence for example:
When Jim and Pam had their baby, Cece, last July, almost two months early, they were quite nervous about the time their daughter had to spend in the NICU.
While technically grammatically correct, this sentence is a bit clunky because of all the commas. Instead, we can offset some information with em dashes to clarify that the phrase is important but extra:
When Jim and Pam had their baby, Cece, last July—almost two months early—they were quite nervous about the time their daughter had to spend in the NICU.
Write Shorter Sentences
Next step in learning how to use fewer commas when writing is to write shorter sentences. Throughout your writing, your sentences should be varied. Too many sentences of the same length will make your writing seem monotonous and boring to read. So, don’t be afraid to write shorter sentences here and there, especially if you can use fewer commas as a result.
Shorter sentences don’t automatically make your writing boring or childlike. Having multiple short sentences can be useful if you’re trying to convey multiple pieces of information at once. Using the more concrete period to separate full sentences can break up the information and make it easier for your audience to comprehend.
Don’t Forget to Edit
It can be hard to determine how to use fewer commas when you’re in the middle of writing. Sometimes, it’s easier to take a step back from your work before making any big changes. Don’t make the mistake of submitting your first draft as your final draft. Even the best writers should make a pass or two over their content before submitting it.
One of the best ways to effectively edit your content is to read it aloud. This practice forces you to slow down when reviewing your work, so you don’t accidentally miss typos or those unnecessary commas. Reading out loud also helps you identify which sentences are awkward to read so that you can adjust them accordingly.
Study About How to Use Fewer Commas When Writing
To become a better writer, you should strive to be an avid reader. In your efforts to learn how to use fewer commas when writing, you might want to pick up some writing guides to help you.
There are plenty of writing guides out there to help you polish your writing. If you’re searching for something specifically about commas and punctuation, one popular option is Actually, the Comma Goes Here by Lucy Cripps. You may also consider To Comma or Not to Comma by Arlene Miller. Popular general guides include Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss and Write Right by Jan Venolia.
Learning how to use fewer commas when writing is a helpful lesson in becoming a better writer. That’s not to say you should never use commas, as they can be incredibly useful in your writing. In fact, we’ve used many commas in this blog post alone! The key is to be aware of your comma usage and, if you find you’re becoming a big comma-crazy, search for a new solution to vary your writing.