3 Sentences That Confuse Instead of Explain

By Mark Nichol

In each of the following sentences, the manner in which the statement is constructed hinders rather than aids comprehension. In each example, discussion describes the problem, and a revision provides a solution.

1. To what extent are you expected to know your customers, a term that refers to identifying and validating client identity?

“Know your customers” is referenced in this sentence as a concept, not as a term for a concept, so the definition of the implied term should be set off as an entirely distinct parenthetical (perhaps even defined in a footnote): “To what extent are you expected to know your customers? (The phrase ‘know your customer’ refers to identifying and validating client identity.)” Alternatively, to avoid the issue, revise to something like “To what extent are you expected to adhere to the know-your-customer principle, which pertains to identifying and validating client identity?”

2. Supervising flight operations in the control car or gondola, Pruss ordered the Hindenburg back down the Jersey Shore coastline.

The location of the person supervising flight operations is described as “the control car or gondola,” but there are two problems with this description. First, the phrase includes two alternate names for a single location, but it is incorrectly uninterrupted by parenthetical punctuation, suggesting that the entire phrase represents a single term. Second, why use the more familiar term followed by a more technical one? Doing so in that order renders the latter superfluous. Better to introduce the less well-known term, followed by the first term as a helpful parenthetical gloss: “Supervising flight operations in the gondola, or control car, Pruss ordered the Hindenburg back down the Jersey Shore coastline.”

3. The EPA’s regulatory reform task force’s pending 30-day public comment period is intended to gather such input.

Avoid stacking two possessive constructions in sequence. Here, the first possessive can easily be converted to an adjective: “The EPA regulatory reform task force’s pending 30-day public comment period is intended to gather such input.” Better yet, however, reorder the sentence to eliminate one apostrophized term: “The pending 30-day public comment period established by the EPA’s regulatory reform task force is intended to gather such input.”

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1 Response to “3 Sentences That Confuse Instead of Explain”

  • TheBluebird11

    The second example is really confusing. When I read it, I understood it to mean that one could supervise flight operations in (of) a control car or, alternatively, a gondola. Neither of which fly, as far as I’m aware. Certainly a gondola is not a type of car? If it is, this author has some explaining to do. I had to reread it when I got to the second part of the sentence, when the Hindenburg appeared. I would reverse the sentence, “Pruss ordered the Hindenburg back down the Jersey Shore coastline while supervising flight operations from the ‘gondola,’ or control car.”

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