The Final Serial Comma and 3 Other Necessities
Ever notice how, when you learn a new word, you suddenly begin to see it everywhere you turn?
I'm like that with grammar errors. I run across one someplace, and then it seems to pop up again and again.
Maybe it's because good fundraising copy needs to sound more like a conversation than a formal letter. Which, in turn, means that sometimes you have to break a few of the formal rules of writing to maintain that casual, conversational feel.
But to break the rules effectively, you first have to know them. So the tips below are shared, not because they are rules but because I've run across multiple examples of each recently. And because they'll help you communicate more simply and clearly.
Always, always, always, use the final serial comma
Writers, especially punctuation minimalists, often think that placing a comma before "and" in a list is optional. And sometimes you can make your meaning clear without it. But it's a bad habit to develop, because if you're not careful, you can end up with phrasing like this photo caption that was in an article about the singer Merle Haggard:
"The documentary was filmed over three years. Among those interviewed were his two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duval."
One space between sentences
The convention of double spacing between sentences is actually a mere blip in the history of typography. In the very early 1900s, after hundreds of years of inconsistency, typesetters in Europe formally adopted the practice of using a single space between sentences. America soon followed. But then, in the middle of the last century, when manual typewriters temporarily became ubiquitous, the double space became popular to make up for the machine's shortcomings. But now that computers do their own typesetting, it's time to relegate that practice to the same dustbin as those rusted Selectrics.
Willis Turner believes great writing has the power to change minds, save lives, and make people want to dance and sing. Willis is the creative director at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He worked as a lead writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 15 years before making the switch to fundraising 20 years ago. In his work with nonprofit organizations and associations, he has written thousands of appeals, renewals and acquisition communications for every medium. He creates direct-response campaigns, and collateral communications materials that get attention, tell powerful stories and persuade people to take action or make a donation.