Advanced Business Writing
Punctuation and Grammar

Commas

Initial Conjunctions

Introductory phrases often need a comma to mark the end of the initial qualifying thought and to make clear the structure of the sentence. However, you should be careful when beginning a sentence with a conjunction (e.g., after, although, before, even though, once, whereas) that is normally used to introduce a subordinate clause:

Although, the methods we used were new, the results were favorable.
[bad]

Although the methods we used were new, the results were favorable.
[good]

Using that comma introduces an unnecessary hesitation and can render the sentence difficult to understand.

It's a different story when the introductory word clearly modifies the entire sentence:

Fortunately, we discovered the new methods just in time.

However, the results did have some variations.

Regardless, we will continue testing.

Warning: Too many of these sentences in a row can make you sound as if you are not confident about what you are saying.

And of course, with guidelines like these, there are always exceptions. It is acceptable to omit a comma after now, thus, and hence:

Now it is clear that he did not know.

Thus he is not at fault.

Hence our predicament.

But if your boss says, "My style manual says that words like hence are final conjunctions and should not be used at the beginning of a sentence!" then you should go along with that.

Long Introductions

Long introductory phrases should be followed by a comma to mark the beginning of the main clause. But sometimes a sentence with a medium-length introductory phrase can read more smoothly when a comma is not used:

When we realized that the new methods worked better we instructed everyone to use them while carefully documenting their results.

This works best when:

(1) The phrase is not too long, perhaps 10 words or less.

(2) The subject in the introductory phrase is the same as the subject in the main clause.

(3) The ideas in the phrase and in the main clause are closely related.

It does not work well when the subjects or the ideas differ:

Although our testing produced such good results managers in other departments were skeptical of the need for any immediate changes.
[bad]

Although our testing produced such good results, managers in other departments were skeptical of the need for any immediate changes.
[better]

A final note on long introductory phrases: don't allow that comma to separate the noun from its verb! This is too jarring on your readers' brains:

The introduction of new methods to test the responsiveness of the widget to changes in temperature, might seem to some managers to be too much change too fast.
[bad]

The introduction of new methods to test the responsiveness of the widget to changes in temperature might seem to some managers to be too much change too fast.
[better]

When keeping track of long introductions becomes onerous, break things up into shorter sentences.

Lesson: Commas
Module: Punctuation and Grammar
Course: Advanced Business Writing