Quick Tip:
The Comma Demystified

The reality about punctuation in direct-marketing copy is this: It really doesn't matter if you're a little shaky. Your prospect won't mind if you're not perfect. Just follow a few of the basic rules and you'll be fine.

But there is one type of punctuation that it's worth paying a little more attention to – because if you misuse it, your prospect could have trouble understanding your copy. I'm taking about the comma (,).

When you're reading and come to a comma, that gives you a signal to pause briefly and take a little breath. So when commas are misplaced – or, as is more frequently the case, overused – in your copy, it has the effect of disrupting the flow of what your prospect is reading.

To avoid this, follow the rule of functional comma use:

If you are sure a comma belongs – really sure – use one. If you are not absolutely sure, do NOT throw one in "just in case."

Here are the "must use" spots for commas.

In a series: red, white, and blue

In numbers over 999: 1,234,567

To avoid confusion: "Even though I like the picture, frame it in black." (Without the comma, the words picture and frame want to be read together as "picture frame.")

Within and after dates in sentences: We're going to arrive in Florida on October 8, 2007, at Lake Port Airport.

There are other places where commas technically belong, but – once again – if you're not sure, don't put them in.

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Published: October 8, 2007

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