3 Cases of Repetitive Punctuation

By Mark Nichol

In each of the sentences below, the number of commas is excessive, which can obscure comprehension because the reader is distracted from effortlessly recognizing the syntactical structure of the statement. Discussion and a revision follows each example.

1. The next step is to escalate the issue to the executive management, including the CEO, and, through appropriate channels, the board of directors.

When repetition of commas or other punctuation marks within a sentence is overbearing, recast the sentence or, as shown here, change punctuation marks to reduce the number of identical occurrences: “The next step is to escalate the issue to the executive management (including the CEO) and, through appropriate channels, the board of directors.”

2. They will need to exercise their own judgment when considering whether a lower threshold is appropriate for a portion, or all, of their customers, which, again, may lead to inconsistent practices across the industry.

If a word or phrase signals an abrupt or unexpected shift in a sentence, a dash is likely a more appropriate substitute when too many commas burden a sentence: “They will need to exercise their own judgment when considering whether a lower threshold is appropriate for a portion, or all, of their customers—which, again, may lead to inconsistent practices across the industry.”

3. The entrance of nontraditional competitors, such as fintech, or financial technology, companies into the financial services industry, is driving this recent evolution.

The primary parenthesis in this sentence is misidentified: The phrase “or financial technology” is inserted into the parenthetical phrase “such as fintech companies,” which expands on the main clause “The entrance of nontraditional competitors into the financial services industry is driving this recent evolution.” The parenthesis should therefore end at companies, not industry: “The entrance of nontraditional competitors, such as fintech, or financial technology, companies, into the financial services industry is driving this recent evolution.”

However, the proximity of punctuation here is oppressive, and punctuation isn’t always required when additional information is inserted into a sentence; the statement is equally intelligible as punctuated here: “The entrance of nontraditional competitors such as fintech, or financial technology, companies into the financial services industry is driving this recent evolution.”

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4 Responses to “3 Cases of Repetitive Punctuation”

  • Lynn

    What about simplifying further?
    2) “appropriate for some or all of their customers”
    3) “The entrance of nontraditional competitors, such as financial technology (fintech) companies, into the financial services industry is driving this recent evolution.”

  • venqax

    OK. When I saw repetitive punctuation I thought, “However,,, it is not necessary…… Is it??? Oh, my!!! That”’s just great.

  • Dale A. Wood

    The three example sentences that Mark gave are all ghastly! He must do a lot of wide reading, and remember it, to have recorded such monsters. My best suggestion is that many times it is better to replace one monster of a sentence with two simpler sentences.
    I believe that Winston Churchill noted that there often comes a time to just put down a period, and then continue with the next sentence.

  • Thebluebird11

    @Lynn: Totally agree. Your solution for #2 is definitely better, and I would think that your solution for #3 (which is the solution I came up with) would be the best, since the writer is introducing a term that is probably new to the reader. So one or the other (fintech, or financial technology) needs to be in parentheses. What I mean is, the sentence also could read, “The entrance of nontraditional competitors, such as fintech (financial technology ) companies, into the financial services industry is driving this recent evolution.” I think that if the piece is appearing in an industry publication, the writer could use fintech and put financial technology in parentheses (with the assumption that most people reading the publication are going to know what fintech is). If the piece is appearing in a lay publication, I would cast it as you had it, with the assumption that most people do NOT know what fintech means, but now are being introduced to the word, and the writer can then use that abbreviated form throughout the rest of the piece.
    @DAW: I agree with you and Winston. This point is especially well taken for #2, because honestly I’m not even clear on what it is that could lead to inconsistent practices. (OTOH, this may be because the sentence is excerpted from somewhere and I don’t know the context).

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