What is the Oxford comma?
Although you may not think about this too much, commas are an essential component to the clarity of our writing-yet there is a debate among English scholars over the use of the Oxford comma which is also known as a serial comma used for the purpose of clarity at the end of a series or a sentence that includes a list. While the Oxford comma may appear to be be too situational and pointless at first, reading an example of it in action might change your mind:
“I was walking down the street with my friend, a class mate, and a co-worker.”
Without the Oxford comma, the sentence would read:
“I was walking down the street with my friend, a classmate and a co-worker.”
In the first sentence, we have a clear indication that there are three separate people walking down the street; whereas in the second sentence, we are left to assume that “my friend” is a classmate, and a co-worker which ultimately changes the entire meaning of the sentence. Since writing is a channel of symbolic communication that is reflective of our speech, there is a legitimate need for the use of the oxford comma: in spoken language we are able to differentiate when there are three people walking down the street vs when there is only the one person through pauses that cue a separation of nouns and other objects; thus, it is only fitting that we utilize a comma to reflect that pause in writing.
Here is an article expressing the need for the Oxford comma, as well as some of the points that counterargument the need for the Oxford comma.