When readers encounter a series, they expect it to be in order, usually in a specific order. For example, if you’ve just taken your seat in a concert hall, and you’re looking at the evening’s program, you expect it be in chronological order, the order in which the pieces will be performed.
A careful writer tries to put every series in proper order. In contrast, a careless writer will often present a series in a jumble; for example, I recently saw this jumbled series while trying to log on to a web site:
“We need to send you an Identification Code Your information is securely transmitted via https (S S L) 128-bit Encryption — We need to confirm your identity to ensure your accounts are secure. We do this by sending a temporary Identification Code to one of the telephone numbers or email addresses you provided us in the past.”
1. The sequence of the message is jumbled.
2. There’s a missing period after the first sentence.
3. The tenses are confusing.
4. The voices are confusing.
In order to ensure your accounts are secure, we need to confirm your identity. To confirm your identity, we need to transmit a temporary Identification Code (via https (S S L) 128-bit Encryption for security) to one of the telephone numbers or email addresses you provided us in the past.The rewrite took me two minutes and five seconds; I spent most of that time on guesswork.
The Takeaway: When you are presenting a series, put it in order, usually in the order that readers expect. And when the order is not what readers expect, state the order.