I just got this correction after submitting a writing piece:

Although this task alone would normally require a much more in-depth discussion, it may be enough to say here that supervisors should identify the areas in which they must self-assess, should gather information on whether they have taken action to improve in a particular area, and should evaluate the results or outcomes associated with their actions.

Originally, I only had the first "should." Should there be one appearance of "should" in the sentence or three?

Further down the line, she changes the following:

Supervisors need to determine whether all of the critical development areas were covered, the number and nature of the actions that were taken, and if overall efforts produced the expected results.


Supervisors need to determine whether all of the critical development areas were covered, whether actions taken were sufficient in number and nature, and whether overall efforts produced the expected results.

I was trying to avoid using the modal "should" too many times in the same sentence. The same applies to the second example.

Your help would be greatly appreciated!

  • The use of "should" (or "whether") multiple times in the examples implies that each of the actions be considered as separate actions, while using these words only once implies that they are all subparts of a single action. In the first case, if 'identifying areas', 'gathering information', and 'taking action to improve' are all sub-parts of one specific process or duty, 'should' is only needed once. If they are separate unrelated duties that are all required by the job, it is better to use 'should' in front of each. – Mark Ripley Dec 3 '16 at 14:28
  • Thank you, Mark Ripley. It is yet another important, well explained insight on how ideas should be expressed in text. I find very helpful. I will definitely keep it in mind in my future writing. – LeoMerc13 Dec 4 '16 at 14:15

As a professional writer, I agree with your editor; but this is a matter of clarity and emphasis, not of grammar.

Others here have observed, correctly, that your versions without the repetitions are entirely grammatical. But each of your sentences presents a list of fairly long clauses, and it is a courtesy to the reader to make it as clear as possible that the clauses are coordinate items.

Moreover, readers today are quite impatient: they tend more and more to skim through long sentences and satisfy themselves with a general impression of what a passage says by focusing on beginnings and ends. What that means for you as a writer is that you have to slow your readers down, to make sure they give appropriate attention to all the pieces of your sentences and paragraphs.

Your editor accomplishes both of these ends, clarity and emphasis, by giving the clauses identical structures and by starting each with the same word. In effect, the repeated shoulds and whethers act like 'bullets' in a breezier style.

Avoiding repetition is not always a virtue.

  • This makes a lot of sense to me. Thank you for your time and informative post. I will certainly keep your insights in mind the next time I write something. – LeoMerc13 Dec 4 '16 at 13:32

A list of things, is an example of a parallel structure. It is normal to omit words that are duplicated in all of the items of the list: this can be called ellipsis.

Mary likes apples, Mary likes pears and Mary likes oranges.
Mary likes apples, likes pears and likes oranges
Mary likes apples, pears and oranges.

All of the above are grammatically correct: it is a matter of opinion which of the three sentences sound best, but most people would probably go for the final one- with maximum ellipsis.

Your original sentence is maximum-ellipsis, and so it is equivalent to the final one, but the person who corrected your text has proposed a version more like the middle one.

If the original sentence is considered too long or complicated for the intended audience, other methods such as bullet points may be more appropriate than this- in my opinion rather irritating- repetition.

  • This comment is truly informative. The examples are excellent illustrations that match the situation at hand. The reference to the term "linguistic prescriptivism" is also very interesting and something I will further explore on my own so I can better inform my own writing. Thank you for your time and helpful explanation. – LeoMerc13 Dec 4 '16 at 13:35
  • A judicious modification! - upvoted – StoneyB Dec 4 '16 at 15:30

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