The Case of the Serial Comma: What Can Plain-Language Drafting Tell Legislative Drafters?

19 The Scribes Journal of Legal Writing 127 (2020)

Tulane Public Law Research Paper No. 20-12

12 Pages Posted: 15 Oct 2020

Date Written: 2020

Abstract

Little commas provoke mighty controversies. The “$10 million serial comma” case explored the financial implications of a missing serial comma. This article foregoes an argument on the merits to examine instead the serial comma and other precepts of plain language drafting as analytical tools that deepen drafters’ understanding of the texts they are drafting. Plain language techniques don’t just improve reader comprehension; they also illuminate meaning for drafters and policymakers. This article suggests that recourse to the serial comma, if-then tables, and the linked techniques of tabulation and parallelism will help drafters understand the intended meaning of policymakers while an instrument is still in the drafting phase, when changes can easily be made without costly consequences.

Keywords: plain language, punctuation, serial comma, Oxford comma, tabulation, parallelism, if-then tables

Suggested Citation

Marcello, David, The Case of the Serial Comma: What Can Plain-Language Drafting Tell Legislative Drafters? (2020). 19 The Scribes Journal of Legal Writing 127 (2020), Tulane Public Law Research Paper No. 20-12, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3707770

David Marcello (Contact Author)

Tulane University Law School ( email )

6329 Freret Street
New Orleans, LA 70118
United States

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