3 Types of Faulty In-Line Lists

By Mark Nichol - 2 minute read

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This post includes three examples of how sentences can go wrong because the writer has failed to support the sentence structure with the proper syntactical arrangement of words and phrases in relation to each other. Discussion after each example explains the problem, and one or more revisions demonstrate solutions.

1. The training materials should be communicated in a way that is clear, appropriate for the users, and highlights the key benefits of the change.

This type of sentence is flawed in that the writer mistakenly assumes that a verb serves more than one list item, and therefore leaves one or more items bereft of support. Here, “appropriate for the users” requires its own verb (“is appropriate for the users”) to complement “is clear,” and the phrase beginning with highlights must be attached by a conjunction to, rather than separated with a comma from, the sentence element with which it shares a verb (with the insertion of a corresponding preposition for the first element and a complementary pronoun for the final one): “The training materials should be communicated in a way that is clear to and appropriate for the users and that highlights the key benefits of the change.”

2. Operational risk incidents can result in significant losses to the company, the industry, and, ultimately, to investors.

This sentence has an error similar to that of the previous example, but in this case, a preposition, rather than a verb, is expected to handle a syntactical burden it is not qualified to carry—
“the industry,” just like “the company” and investors, must have its own preposition: “Operational risk incidents can result in significant losses to the company, to the industry, and, ultimately, to investors.” (Alternatively, all three elements can share the first instance of the preposition: “Operational risk incidents can result in significant losses to the company, the industry, and, ultimately, investors.”)

3. Traditional financial institutions have significantly enhanced their risk and compliance programs by increasing resources, clarifying roles and responsibilities, upgrading their governance frameworks, as well as maintaining higher levels of capital.

Here, a list is treated as if it consists of four items, but as constructed, the sentence has three items followed by a related item set off by the phrase “as well as”; because the last item is not part of the list, the item that does finish the list must be preceded by a conjunction: “Traditional financial institutions have significantly enhanced their risk and compliance programs by increasing resources, clarifying roles and responsibilities, and upgrading their governance frameworks, as well as maintaining higher levels of capital.”

Better yet, simply incorporate the final phrase, for which distinctive treatment has no justification, into the list: “Traditional financial institutions have significantly enhanced their risk and compliance programs by increasing resources, clarifying roles and responsibilities, upgrading their governance frameworks, and maintaining higher levels of capital.”

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