Do commas confuse you?
The final stage of the writing and editing process is proofreading: correcting any errors in spelling, punctuation, word usage, and format. Roughly 75% of what I do while proofreading clients' documents is correct commas.
When I teach university writing courses, I ask the students, "What's the number one thing that confuses you about punctuation and grammar?" In every class, someone says "Commas," and about half of the students nod in agreement.
Commas confuse most people. Unlike other types of punctuation, they are used in so many ways. However, if you want to write clearly and professionally, you need to use commas correctly.
But where does the comma go?
The answer to this question is found in Zen Comma, a forthcoming guide to using commas correctly. Zen Comma, an e-book in PDF and e-pub formats, examines the 17 major uses and misuses of commas. This is the book that finally tells you where to put commas—and where to take them out.
Each chapter begins with correct examples, explains the rules for correct usage, covers common errors, and discusses special considerations so you can use commas correctly, intelligently, and conscientiously.
The various koans interspersed throughout the chapters are intended to help you "meditate" on comma concepts. These are short anecdotes that illustrate specific concepts for using commas correctly. The "hero" of these anecdotes is Bumbo, a student at the Zen Comma School. Along with his fellow students, he spends his time learning about commas from his teacher and visiting the Temple of Meaning.
When you understand these koans, you will be able to apply their concepts to your own writing. The end result will be writing that clearly, accurately, and correctly communicates your ideas.
Zen Comma concludes with a summary of 38 rules for using commas correctly, an explanation of the koans, and a series of exercises to help you identify the comma rules you need to study.
Why Zen Is Part of the Book Name
This is, obviously, not a book on Zen. This is a book on commas. However, core Zen principles provide the framework for understanding and using commas to achieve clear communication.
Zen emphasizes experiential understanding gained through meditating (focused, purposeful consideration) and practicing a right way of living. This is not so different to how we learn, say, commas.
We study the comma rules, think about them and how they are used, seek to understand their underlying concepts, and put them into practice. Zen is anti-theoretical in nature, and commas, too, are practical tools that we use to accomplish communication goals.
Zen Master Kyong Ho once said, "Don't expect your practice to be clear of obstacles. Without hindrances, the mind that seeks enlightenment may be burnt out." However, as one Zen proverb states, "From the withered tree, a flower blooms."
The purpose of Zen, if it can be said to have a single purpose, is awakening. Similarly, commas awaken, or reveal, the meanings in our sentences. They reveal what we are trying to say, and they are necessary to communicate that message to our readers.
Commas are Zen.
David Bowman, author of Zen Comma and chief editor of Precise Edit, is the author of four other popular books on writing: 300 Days of Better Writing, Which Word Do I Use?, Precise Edit Training Manual, and Bang! Writing with Impact.
For more information about Zen Comma and other writing guides by David Bowman, visit Hostile Editing (http://hostileediting.com).