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I have a sentence in my job descriptions as below:

Assess seriousness of each case, select external service providers (e.g. surveyors) to participate in investigation and achieve expected outcomes in a cost-effective way.

When you see the sentence at first glance, do you think which pair of verbs are connected with the conjunction “and”? Select and achieve, or, participate and achieve?

My intention is to express “I will select an external service provider (e.g. surveyors) to participate in investigation and hope him to achieve expected outcome in a cost-effective way”. Obviously, the above sentence looks ambiguous, confusing me a lot (Readers may think "I select ... and will achieve the outcome in a cost-effective way").

Hope anybody can help me clarify the problem, or make the sentence more clear in keeping with the original meaning.

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    Your sentence unambiguously connects the three verbs assess, select and achieve as a list of equal things because of the placement of the first comma, which should be an "and". That is, you have the list "A, B and C", when what you really want is "A and B to C1 and C2". Still, the sentence will be ambiguous and could perhaps benefit from being broken up. Apr 15, 2021 at 15:35
  • @CanadianYankee I'm a fan of the Oxford comma specifically because it eliminates most possibilities of ambiguity and makes comma separated lists look less messy. Use of "and" here could be read to connect "participate" and "achieve", though this reading would be so humorous on a CV that a hiring manager would probably just chuckle at it and proceed to infer the intended meaning.
    – R Mac
    Apr 15, 2021 at 21:26
  • Thank you. Could you modify or rephrase the sentence to eliminate possible confusion? I can understand what differences between your modification and my expression, and learn how to say it in an idiomatic way.
    – edgar
    Apr 15, 2021 at 23:19

2 Answers 2

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Assess seriousness of each case, select external service providers (e.g. surveyors) to participate in investigation and achieve expected outcomes in a cost-effective way.

My suggestion is shown below. As the passage has no independent clause, I have used small letter for the first word and deleted the full stop at the end.

[a]ssess seriousness of each case [and] select external service providers (e.g. surveyors)[who will] participate in investigation and achieve expected outcomes in a cost-effective way

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My English teacher from high school taught us the rules for this sort of sentence, and more to the point, told us why.

I can no longer remember the precise "why", but the rule we learned was that when you are separating clauses like this by way of turning them into a list, you use a stronger connective than the comma. Specifically, you use a semicolon. And, for the final "and", you use "comma and".

So you end up with this:

Assess seriousness of each case; select external service providers (e.g. surveyors) to participate in investigation, and achieve expected outcomes in a cost-effective way.

This has the effect of breaking up the sentence into more obvious chunks, resulting in greater ease of parsing it.

If you wanted to be pedantic and plodding, with even greater increase in parsability, add "to" to the verbs:

To assess seriousness of each case; to select external service providers (e.g. surveyors) to participate in investigation, and to achieve expected outcomes in a cost-effective way.

This style may be at odd with the mire high-speed style of current grammatical practice, but (at least in my opinion) it works.

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