When Jacob isn’t surfing on the Sunshine Coast where he lives in Australia, he is thinking about grammar. In fact, he is prone to thinking about gramma even while surfing. As an academic editor and a postdoctoral scholar, he spends a lot of time trying to simplify complex sentences.

semi-colons lists academic writing simplify

“From my own research, I understand how difficult it can be to deal with complex subject matters. My field – entomology – is filled with complex terms which non-experts have a hard time understanding. So it is my job to convey these ideas for two audiences: the experts as well as the non-experts as the latter also are an important target for my work.  I work with lots of clients who produce excellent research which is highly complex. I help them to present their complex ideas in a manner which is more manageable for the reader.” He offers an example:

Research reports often include long lists of complex items. Sometimes using commas only is insufficient to offset the items. For example:

Incorrect: We had four professors on our committee: Peter Wursthorn, Professor of Mathematics, Ronald Pepin, Professor of English, Cynthia Greenblatt, Professor of Education, and Nada Light, Professor of Nursing.

As each item already includes a comma, separate the items using semi-colons. You can think of semi-colons as big commas in this situation.

Correct: We had four professors on our committee: Peter Wursthorn, Professor of Mathematics; Ronald Pepin, Professor of English; Cynthia Greenblatt, Professor of Education; and Nada Light, Professor of Nursing.

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