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Category Archives: Resumes and Value-Rich Cover Letters

Is using a comma in a series right or wrong? Inquiring minds want to know!

I have always liked the comma! I like it so much that I have used it in my writing and made sure than even when other people wanted to toss that poor little comma away, I put it right back in to my writing.

One of the places I really like to include my commas is when I have a list of things in a resume. In this case, grammatically it has been called the serial comma or sometimes the Oxford comma. If you are a reporter, the Associated Press Guidelines tell you to remove the comma. Grammatically, I understand that there can be different rules, but for me, that extra comma just makes sense.

Examples of using commas my way

  • Collaborated, developed, and implemented district-wide, three-year program to identify, assess, and intervene in youthful substance abuse for students enrolling in driver’s education programs.    (I feel a need to put that comma behind assess)
  • Cut lead times by 55.1% (274 to 123 days), reduced interest costs, and improved EBITDA from 11% to 22%. (I want that comma behind costs)

What do other career experts say?

Even though I use a lot of creativity in my resumes, I really wanted to make sure that as a rebel comma user I wasn’t causing trouble for my clients so I did what I always do when I want to make sure I am going in the right direction. I asked people. In this case, I asked people on Facebook. Here was my original post:

I’ve always been a bit of a rebel on comma use. I really prefer a comma before the “and” in a series. But I think I may have to change my ways. Professional resume writers, is it time for me to stop adding the extra “,”? Example: He has skills in operations, quality control, and management. No comma after control? Taking a survey. Anyone can comment but I would really like to hear from my career pro colleagues.

This question must have caught the eye of many people because I got a lot of feedback, both from resume writers and from others. One of the things that stood out was the word consistency. Here are a few of the comments:

  • “I like the use of the serial comma for consistency. Since in resume writing we are often using keywords and phrases that need to be left as is…the serial comma allows for a clear understanding that each is a standalone item.” ~ Rosa E. Vargus, Certified Master Resume Writer at careersteering.com
  • “I haven’t used it for years, and it took me a long time to wean away as an English major:) When I began as a resume writer 25+ years ago, it was best practices to say bye to the series comma. However, it was never wrong to include it. It was more a matter of clean. It’s always been ok either way if consistent. My take :)” ~ Barb Poole, President at Hire Imaging LLC Certified Career Management Coach (CCMC) | Certified Leadership and Talent Management Coach (CLTMC)  | Professional in Human Resources (PHR) | Certified Master Resume Writer (CMRW) | Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW)
  • “My journalism training (college) taught me NOT to use the serial comma. I prefer the cleaner look, so I’ve stuck to it. For those sentences requiring that pesky extra comma for clarity, I leave it in. But like others in this thread have remarked, it’s more a matter of consistency vs. one way is more ‘correct’ than another.” ~ Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, Chief Career Writer | Partner :: Career and Workplace Expert for Glassdoor at CareerTrend (MRW, CPRW, CEIP)
  • “Consistency in a resume or document is all that really matters unless the resume is being written for a journalist or tech writer! Someone is always going to change what you do at some point, right or wrong. I am a fan of serial commas as you frequently run into situations where it just doesn’t make sense without it and becomes an awkward run on sentence. I see lots of resume writers with run on sentence issues.” ~ Laura DeCarlo, Executive Director / President at Career Directors International

There were many more comments from many more career professionals and many other well-educated friends from all walks of life. I would love to share all of them with you but that would make this post too long.

My take – be consistent. I still love that comma and as long as my colleagues didn’t resoundingly say that using that comma in a series or before an “and” was clearly incorrect, I am keeping my comma. As a career professional in a community of colleagues who take our career industry very seriously, I am glad that there is always advice at the tip of my fingertips. I only had to ask!

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