I am currently in the process of collaboratively editing a research paper, and participated in a meeting about it today. During the discussion, the head of the group made a blanket statement about commas, to the effect that it is not fashionable to use too many commas anymore, and that the goal should be to eliminate as many of them as possible.
Is this a valid argument? I thought that the rules for using commas were relatively clear and unambiguous. Is the phrase, "Use commas sparingly" a valid piece of advice? Do I need to quote the "Little Brown" handbook every time I insert a comma into this document? Or has the use of commas become more an issue of "common practice" than one of rigid rules?
Here is an ambiguous sample from the paper, to which I have added a comma for clarity:
This process makes use of commercially available software to read the data files, and custom software to convert the files to a different data format.
...and here is a sample that I consider unambiguous (the comma is required to separate two independent clauses):
The organization does not regulate the data products it receives, and the software application cannot always read the data due to errors resulting from different vendor implementations.