3 Problematic Parallel Lists

By Mark Nichol

When listing within a sentence, take care in sentence construction to employ conjunctions and punctuation correctly to achieve proper parallel sentence structure, as discussed in the discussion and revision of each of the following flawed sentences.

1. Smith worked as a chess coach, tutor, and led overnight camping trips.

This sentence lacks a verb corresponding with tutor, just as worked is associated with “as a chess coach” and led pertains to “overnight camping trips,” as in “Smith worked as a chess coach, acted as a tutor, and led overnight camping trips.” It appears, however, that the writer intends worked to apply to tutor and “chess coach” in parallel, with both supported by “as a,” but the punctuation does not allow this construction.

For the statement to be syntactically valid, tutor must be preceded by a conjunction and its own article: “Smith worked as a chess coach and a tutor and led overnight camping trips.” (If the second a is omitted, the implication is that Smith was a chess coach and a chess tutor; the sentence works this way only if tutor and “chess coach” are transposed so that tutor is not mistakenly linked to chess.)

2. Regulatory technology aims to make regulatory compliance more integrated, streamlined, and less costly. 

The first and third adjectives in the list are provided comparative modifiers, and the implication is that streamlined shares more with integrated, but the comma prevents that association. In order for integrated and streamlined to share more, they must be treated as a phrase separated by and and both commas must be omitted: “Regulatory technology aims to make regulatory compliance more integrated and streamlined and less costly.” Alternatively, integrated can be assigned its own instance of more: “Regulatory technology aims to make regulatory compliance more integrated, more streamlined, and less costly.”

3. Firms need to ensure that workflow, queue management, control reporting, exception management, efficient and streamlined processes are in place. 

“Efficient and streamlined processes” is intended to be understood as a factor equivalent to the other four listed beforehand, but the writer has mistaken and for the conjunction that necessarily precedes the final item in the list. Because it is within the final item, another conjunction is required: “Firms need to ensure that workflow, queue management, control reporting, exception management, and efficient and streamlined processes are in place.”

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