While most people would agree that Oxford is a boring, but beautiful place, most writers know that the Oxford comma is just simply common sense. Writers should always be in the habit of using the Oxford comma, particularly when there is no reason not to do so.
Typically, the only time you don’t want to use one is when there is certain to be no ambiguity at all. Although, that ambiguity can be employed as a literary tool for fiction writers, when crafting something informative, or persuasive, failing to use the Oxford comma when there is even the slightest risk of confusion is bad form.
What Exactly is the Oxford Comma?
Simply put, the Oxford comma is the comma that comes before an “and,” or an “or,” in a list of three or more items. For example: Ferdinand likes flowers, eating food, and sleep.”
Sure, that sentence would read just fine without the last comma, but consider something like this: Ferdinand likes sleep, eating food and flowers. As you can see, without that last comma, it’s unclear whether or not Ferdinand likes eating flowers.
Why is the Oxford Comma Important?
As history has shown, the Oxford comma, or the lack of one, can have serious consequences. Court cases have hinged on the lack of an Oxford comma exactly because of the ambiguity created by one not being used by lawmakers or by contract authors.
But for bloggers, it’s a little bit different. When the law or a contract is ambiguous, courts decide what they mean. For bloggers, it’s the internet reading public that gets to decide for themselves. Also, unlike literary writing, informative or persuasive blogs shouldn’t make readers work to extract meaning. Sure, depending on your audience, using the correct allusions, metaphors, and the like, is essential, and those can often be hit-or-miss (again, depending), but that’s a stylistic choice, rather than a choice to not use an Oxford comma which will clearly render your and/or-connected lists ambiguous.
Particularly for independent bloggers, easy to read writing is essential. Clearly identifying subjects, actions, phrases, or whatever else you’re listing, makes it so your readers won’t have to guess at meanings. Though you can choose to only use the Oxford comma when absolutely necessary, doing so risks confusion as readers don’t always read things the same way an author writes it. Simply put, consistently using the Oxford comma makes writing more accessible to more readers.
If you’re looking for more in-depth resources on comma usage, and the Oxford comma, you can check out this grammarly blog post.