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Q. I have been asked to make only grammatical edits on a document. I believe my boss is misusing semicolons in a passage similar to this one: “Applications will be reviewed by the board. Selection criteria: (1) profession; (2) type of project; and (3) documented impacts of the project.” I was under the impression that semicolons are used in a series only when the items within the series contain internal punctuation. Would it be correct for me to supplant these semicolons with commas? Or would this be a stylistic change?
A. You’re right that commas, not semicolons, are needed in your sentence. I can’t know what your boss intended when he or she directed you to correct “only grammar” (whether that implied “not punctuation”), but since grammar involves the relations between words in a sentence, and relations are indicated by means of punctuation, I’d go ahead and rip out those semicolons.