College App (Essay) Protip #5: Comma are salt, so don’t make me salty

Maybe you’re a responsible comma user. I’m proud of you if so. More likely than not, though, you aren’t. (Be ashamed.)

Welcome back, I’m here today to talk a bit about responsible comma use in your essays. 

Note: The format for this post will be atypical: My examples will come before my tips.

Responsible comma use? Sounds like a basic, easy, simple, obvious thing to know, so why should you listen, I mean, aren’t you getting just, um, a little bit tired of pausing, like, every time I place a, I don’t know, comma?

That statement is tiring to read even in your head. Omit commas (and unnecessary words/phrases) if you don’t need them. If it’s not contributing to your message (e.g. do we need to know every stammer of conversation?) then don’t include it, you’re wasting space.

^Tip 1: Commas are like salt. Use them wisely and they enhance the flavor of your essay. Overuse them and you get a salty reader. Really salty if I’m your reader.

The same goes for your words and your word choice. (I’ll talk about this next post.)

Let’s have another example of bad comma use. Here’s my post from last week from facebook (in its raw and glorious form prior to edits)

Sorry seniors, mom just now got around to finishing up a post. Believe me, writing a post is like writing an essay, so if I can do it, so can you. Speaking of which, I have one due this Tuesday that I should get started on…here’s some essay help in the meantime.

Notice that I use roughly the same sentence pattern in the above three sentences. Qualifying phrase, sentence. Qualifying phrase, sentence. Qualifying phrase, sentence. By the time you reach the last one you probably feel a bit like you’ve been rocked to death in qualifying phrases.

Yes, I was mortified to realize that I had done that and promptly corrected it. (I also promptly started on this post for next week. Aren’t I responsible?)

^TIP 2: Vary up your sentence patterns. Use long sentences, short sentences, and commas in varying positions. Try not to have two sentences of similar build next to each other (excepting parallelism): even universities know how to /show diversity/ by putting people of different races and genders next to each other.

I’ll be one of the first to admit that I enjoy using (and probably abusing) commas. Commas are utilitarian little tools and allow you to make really long sentences, which are especially useful when your English teacher tells you that you have to write a three-sentence-paragraph summary and you don’t have enough space to squeeze in all those thoughts without some extra things dangling off the side for dear life, not unlike the way that your video game characters dangle off the platform in Smash/Brawl .

Guess what? You’re not writing these essays for English class. You don’t have a sentence limit, just a word limit. Also, please don’t write a sentence as long as the one as I just did up there. It’s revolting to read. (Try reading it aloud and you’ll feel like you’ve got little to no place to take a breath).

^TIP 3: In a balancing act with tip 1, please DO use commas when necessary (and don’t write uber-long sentences). Don’t try to be a superhero. Everyone needs commas sometimes.

Commas are really good at separating things, like in lists. If your mom was going to the store to buy stuff, she’d writes down that she needs ‘beef, noodle*, soup, honey, butter, chicken, biscuits’. Not that she needs beef noodle soup and honey butter chicken biscuits, because those are different things.

(Whataburger should pay me for advertising for them, I bet you’re hungry now.)

just in case you haven’t seen this really overused joke

Great! We all know that commas are separators. They’re also really good at reinforcing repetition. As commas are used to create a temporary ‘pause’ in speech, think of them as breaths in rap**: the more you have in a short space, the more choppy your rap is. As far as my uncultured brain knows, I’ve never heard of a laundry list rapper. It’s unpleasant to imagine that; it’s unpleasant to read, too.

As a side note, your word count should drop if you stop laundry listing. Please avoid trying to express multiple adjectives or adverbs with commas. You’re just taking up space and everyone knows it. A few well-placed words are better than saying you were ‘exhausted, shocked, and despairing at the end of your hike up the mountain’.

^TIP 4: Laundry list sparingly with commas. 

I’m too tired to illustrate these, so here’s a couple more:

TIP 5: Don’t be the person who uses semi-colons wrong by substituting them for commas and vice-versa. If you use a comma instead of a semi-colon, you just made a run-on sentence. Congratulations. Everyone hates you.

In the same vein, don’t use semi-colons if you don’t know how to use them correctly, and don’t overuse them either.

TIP 6: Oxfords: use them or lose them. The choice is yours: just stay consistent.

Enough said.


That’s all for now. I’m not a grammar or an English teacher, so I’m not here to lecture, I’m not paid, and this list definitely wasn’t comprehensive. At the very least, I  hope you were entertained. (I’m working on being funnier than Buzzfeed, as amusing as tumblr, and as brilliant and /insightful/ as Google’s search algorithms, but I’ve got a way to go.)

As a final note of seriousness, here’s a Purdue quick guide to commas. Keep writing, keep editing, and keep being superstars.

*I know it’s ‘noodles’ just accept this for the sake of the funny illustration ok it’s 2:30am and I’m trying really hard

**I do not claim to be a rap expert I was just trying to illustrate an example p l e a s e just go with the flow (ha, get it, cause rappers have flow)

what a punderful world


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s