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At times, after providing a draft of a resume to clients, I will be asked about the presence or lack of commas in certain situations. The comma (or lack thereof) I am referencing is known as the “serial” comma, and is also named the “Oxford” or “Harvard” comma. Below is Wikipedia’s definition:

The serial comma is the comma used immediately before a coordinating conjunction (usually and or or, and sometimes nor) preceding the final item in a list of three or more items. For example, a list of three countries can be punctuated as either “Portugal, Spain, and France” (with the serial comma) or as “Portugal, Spain and France” (without the serial comma).

So, the question is, should you use the serial comma? The answer, according to various writers and editors, is not to use the serial comma. But, although this is the general consensus, this mainly applies to certain formal documents, such as papers, and essays (not including resumes). The serial comma is quite handy, in fact, and helps to avoid ambiguity. Let’s take a look at an example, again from Wikipedia, to clear this up:

My usual breakfast is coffee, bacon and eggs and toast.

It is uncertain whether bacon and eggs, or eggs and toast, should be grouped together. Adding a serial comma removes this ambiguity. With a comma after eggs, the foods are: 1) coffee 2) bacon and eggs, and 3) toast. With a comma after bacon, the foods are: 1) coffee 2) bacon 3) eggs and toast. This example, though elementary, proves that the lack of including a serial comma can cause confusion, which is something that should never happen when reading a resume.

So, that is all for today. A short, but helpful, lesson on serial commas. So, should you use a serial comma? I say yes.

By Drew Roark