The comma: Breaks up, sentences and separates ideas

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In a world where the mobile phone and the internet have unceremoniously usurped everything over the last 12 years, it often seems that the art of writing a sentence has followed the book and the conversation out of the window.

However, even if it annoys you that “lol” has replaced the good old institution of an awkward silence – unless people really do find literally everything hilarious when written in text form – one thing which is even more important than the eradication of “textspk” when writing content online, is that your grammar is correct.

The internet is not a newspaper, and for the most part, people are free to publish what they like online. This means that for every Huffington Post, there is a Tumblr page riddled with spelling mistakes and omitted commas.

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To give your content a sense of legitimacy and professionalism that will keep readers engaged, it is vital to make sure that it stands out from amateur writing by being properly constructed.

One of the most important grammatical tools is the comma. However, despite it being the difference between the idiomatic weather forecast “it’s raining cats and dogs”, and announcing to your pets that “it’s raining, cats and dogs”, the comma is also one of the most commonly neglected forms of punctuation.

Grammar and content strategy

When it comes to writing anything, the sole intention is that someone else is going to read it, so it is important to make sure that it comes across well.

Commas, in their most basic function, break up sentences to make them more readable, as well as separating clauses and introducing a different idea where a new sentence is not necessarily required.

The easiest way to think about a comma is to treat it like a semi-full stop. No one speaks without taking a breath occasionally, and we most likely wouldn’t speak to anyone who did; so why would someone read content that is devoid of natural flow?

Long sentences can be confusing and can often turn an audience off what they are reading. If this is the case, then it is all too easy for them to click the back button and head off to read content on another site.

It’s not just about content for SEO

Enticing someone to come to your website is often all about the SEO value of your content, and good use of optimised headlines and keywords in the text can ensure that searches will direct readers to you.

However, getting them to stay on the site and read your work is a different matter, and the reason correct grammar is important. If your work reads as if you know what you are talking about, then people are more likely to stick around and read it; simple. If, on the other hand, it reads like you are rambling, then your audience is likely to simply dismiss you and seek out content elsewhere.

As well as its use as the sensible break in sentences though, the common comma can also drastically change the meaning of a statement, with wide ranging, and sometimes comical, results.

Hilarious commas 

Tails didn’t quite get the comma right 
in the first version of the cover

There is the Telegraph’s example of the applicant whose CV tragically stated that he loved “cooking dogs and interesting people”, or the restaurant menu which suddenly made one dish far less vegetarian friendly, with its ingredients of “lettuce, tomato, goats, cheese.”

However, while these are humorous examples of how the misuse of a comma can change the meaning of a sentence, they do serve as pertinent warnings to anyone writing content for websites on how drastically the misuse of punctuation can alter what you are trying to say.

As a general rule, reading out loud is the best way to make sure that commas are used properly. When you read it, if there’s a natural break in your writing, then use one. If not, simply leave it be.

Anyway, you’ll have to excuse me while I proofread this blog over and over for any signs of poor grammar or missing commas. I’ve rather left myself open to scrutiny.

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