What is writing style? I started out thinking that writing style is a personal thing and that all writers have their own style. But, this way of thinking is really just a simple way to answer the question. After more careful thought, I realized that style is actually quite the opposite of personal and original. Style is a form of standardization. As writers, we all follow certain rules and guidelines to make our point. Style is these rules and guidelines.
For a writer to better understand style, multitudes of books and helpful guides have been published. Many are written as lists of rules about word choice, constructions to avoid, common stylistic traps, and other such things. One of these is The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. Another type are the books that go into more detail that further explain why some things work in writing and some things don’t. Style Toward Clarity and Grace by Joseph M. Williams would fall into this category. Although written in a different manner they share the same goal; to present some of the most important rules in writing and style.
Some of the most essential elements of style are those that deal with commas. How to use a comma and where to place one can be quite confusing at times. With Strunk and White’s chapter 1 on Elementary Rules of Usage, they go into detail with examples for writers to better understand the usage of commas.
Rule number two exemplifies comma placement when dealing with three or more terms. Strunk and White say that in “a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last” (Strunk and White, 2). One example they use to demonstrate this is
“red, white, and blue” (Strunk and White, 2).
There are many times when editing papers that I see writers not using a comma after the second term. I believe this to be a common mistake. Strunk and White refer to this usage as the “serial” comma. The only time they believe it is acceptable to not follow this rule is in the case of a business or a firm containing three or more names. Often the second comma will be omitted.
Another very important rule dealing with commas is rule number 4, “place a comma before a conjunction introducing an independent clause” (Strunk and White, 5). This rule not only points out the proper place to put a comma, but also the fact that there are two part sentences. Some writers tend to put a period where a comma should be placed, maybe because they are uncomfortable with where to put the comma. An example of proper comma usage in this case would be
“The early records of the city have disappeared, and the story of its first years can no longer be reconstructed” (Strunk and White, 5).
Relatinging back to breaking a two-part sentence into two sentences is rule number six. One should be careful to not place a period where a comma should be.
“I met them on a Cunard Liner many years ago. Coming home from Liverpool to...