3 Cases of Confused Connections

By Mark Nichol

Relationships between sentence elements are sometimes obscured by suboptimal syntax. In each of the following examples, ordering of phrases is an obstacle to comprehension. Discussion and revision of each sentences explains and provides a solution.

1. Despite encouragement from regulators, financial institutions experience mixed results ranging from prompt responses to requests, at best, to requests that are never addressed, at worst.

Here, though the sentence’s parallel structure is sound, clarity is improved if the parenthetical phrases “at best” and “at worst” precede rather than follow the pertinent wording so that the reader knows before the fact, not belatedly, that a scaled comparison of results, not just random examples of them, are being introduced: “Despite encouragement from regulators, financial institutions experience mixed results ranging from, at best, prompt responses to requests to, at worst, requests that are never addressed.”

2. Once executive management and the board agree on the drivers of, and strategic, operational, and financial parameters around, opportunity-seeking behavior, the resulting risk-appetite statement is a reminder of the core risk strategy arising from the strategy-setting process.

This sentence is technically correct, but the complexity of the parenthetical phrase “and the strategic, operational, and financial parameters around,” and the distance it places between the parallel phrase “drivers of” and the phrase “the resulting risk-appetite statement,” which applies to both parallel phrases, renders the sentence difficult to digest. A better solution is to relocate the second parallel phrase to follow the key phrase, introducing a more complete portion of the main clause before the interruption and reducing the number of commas: “Once executive management and the board agree on the drivers of opportunity-seeking behavior and the strategic, operational, and financial parameters around it, the resulting risk-appetite statement is a reminder of the core risk strategy arising from the strategy-setting process.”

3. Even though the program contains all the same components, the level of rigor and detail, and the amount of automation through workflow, changes with the size and risk profile of the company.

Readers may get the impression that the phrases “the same components,” “the level and rigor and detail,” and “the amount of automation through workflow” are parallel elements of a list. But “the same components” is part of an introductory subordinate clause, and the second and third phrases constitute a complex subject of the sentence. To make the sentence clearer by breaking up the false list, recast the final phrase as a parenthetical: “Even though the program contains all the same components, the level of rigor and detail—and the amount of automation through workflow—changes with the size and risk profile of the company.”

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