As an MFA student, my writing assignments are primarily creative pieces, which means I have a lot of grammatical leeway. Even so, my writing friends would send me feedback about my comma usage. If I didn’t include the “Oxford comma,” for example, they wouldn’t know where a list ended and a new clause began. Basically, if I didn’t use commas correctly, they felt disoriented.
I used to think comma placement was intuitive, that commas symbolized breaths or pauses. While this is partially true, there is a lot more to it. I hadn’t learned much about commas, or any form of grammar/punctuation, since middle school, when my sixth-grade English teacher called me the “Comma Momma” because I’d sprinkle them all over my papers. When I recently started working at the local community college’s writing center, I learned that there are actually comma rules. If a sentence begins with “before” or “although,” it’s set up as an introductory dependent clause, which requires a comma after it. If I throw a “however” in the middle of a sentence, it’s called a nonessential word, which needs to be enclosed in commas. Who knew?
All of this is to suggest that if I have something interesting to say, and have organized my ideas well, but am not using commas correctly, my readers may not know how to make sense of my writing. Fortunately, I now pay attention to the comma rules, and they haven’t complained since.
Virtual Writing Center