What is an ‘Oxford comma’?

May 19, 2016

Dr. Jennifer C van Velkinburgh, Filipodia Publishing


If you have ever looked at an ‘Instructions to Authors’ guideline, you know that journalshave very specific – if not always rational – requirements for the way a paper should be presented if it is to be published by them. These requirements range from broad and surface-level, such as font type and size, to detailed and textual, such as the type of commas to be used. Regardless, it is your duty as a submitting author to follow all the rules put forth.


During a recent submission of one of my own research papers, I encountered a journal’s instructions explicitly forbidding use of an ‘Oxford comma’. The Oxford comma is more generally known by its descriptive name of ‘serial comma’, or even the less known name of ‘Harvard comma’.


Simply, a serial comma is a comma that is placed before the last item of a list of 3 or more items.

For example, the statement ‘…including T cells, B cells, and dendritic cells.” uses a serial comma and would be rejected by the journal that forbids use of an Oxford/Harvard/serial comma. For that journal, the statement must be written as ‘…including T cells, B cells and dendritic cells.’

Note the use of 3 commas in the first (serial comma) statement of 3 items, but only 2 commas in the second (non-serial comma) statement of 3 items.


While some journals require serial commas and some deny their use, it is up to you as a submitting author to follow whichever requirement your target journal has put forth. If there is no rule in their guidelines, then chose one type of comma and make sure to use it consistently throughout your entire document.