If you’ve ever read scientists’ unedited writing then you can probably imagine my pain. The passive verb tenses, the nominalizations, the convoluted run-on sentences so stuffed full of technical terms that I can’t tell where the compound adjectives end and the compound nouns begin … they make my brain melt.
It could be worse. They could be writing in Spanish, which, according to a wise Latina, has no adjectives at all.
A journey of a thousand miles, of course, begins with a single step, so here is hers:
When I first began working here, only one of the four writers in my department consistently used the serial comma. The other three would accept my edits when I imposed it onto their writing, but they kept sending me drafts in which it was omitted.
So I decided to make evangelizing the serial comma my personal mission. I explained to them why the serial comma was the superior choice for clarity. I wrote the classic “To my parents, Ayn Rand and God” example on their whiteboards to demonstrate why omitting it was confusing. I complained about how I can’t tell how many items are in a list if I’m unfamiliar with the terms and they don’t use the serial comma.
[T]he comma separates items (including the last from the next-to-last) in a list of more than two e.g.: “The Joneses, the Smiths, and the Nelsons.” In this position, it’s called, variously, the serial comma, the Oxford comma, or the Harvard comma. Whether to include the serial comma has sparked many arguments. But it’s easily answered in favor of inclusion because omitting the final comma may cause ambiguities, whereas including it never will e.g.: “A and B, C and D, E and F[,] and G and H.” When the members are compound, calling for and within themselves, clarity demands the final comma.
Unless you thought God and Ayn Rand actually had a child together, of course, in which case you’ll be forgiven if you exhibit indifference, as is common in popular music: the Monkees released two consecutive albums that could have used this extra bit of punctuation, but didn’t. (Then again, to quote Neil Sedaka, “Down doo-bee doo down down,,”.)