Got Oxford comma? Style is in the eye of the beholder. Just when I thought I had a firm grasp of spelling and punctuation, I started working with a London-based magazine that called into question all that I knew to be right and true.
As an American writer, I like my closing quotation marks outside my periods, my “organizations” spelled with a “z” and not an “s,” and my “percents” written as one word, not two. However, I had to make all kinds of concessions as I edited the UK pub, since, as one UK writer reminded me, I should stick to “using US style in US magazines and British style in British magazines.”
But style differences are not only found across the pond. When I submitted Baby Grand for copy editing, the American copy editor stuck in all the serial, or Oxford, commas that I tend to eschew and replaced all my spaced en dashes with em dashes firmly planted, space free, next to the neighboring words (apparently, my preference for spaced en dashes is quite British — go figure).
Style is not really etched in stone. It can be fluid, depending upon your audience. Therefore, as I continue to edit the UK pub, I will keep the magazine’s style guide next to my laptop to keep me from spelling “program” without an extra “m” and an “e” at the end (“programme”). And while I’ll probably continue to use spaced en dashes and leave out the Oxford commas as I write the early drafts of my next novel — since that’s the way I write comfortably — for my final draft, I will add those commas and do a “find and replace” on those en dashes and convert them to em dashes if that is what the American literary world wants.
I’ve always been a big proponent of proper grammar, and I think it’s important that we all strive for correctness. But sometimes there is no “correct,” just “preference.” And in those cases I think you should adhere to the rules of whatever audience you’re writing for. In the end, punctuation and spelling are just structure, guideposts that help readers navigate and understand your words. Your words are what REALLY matter.