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In the following sentence, I am listing multiple areas of study. Should they be separated by commas or semi-colons?

"In my exposure to this field so far, I have come to appreciate just how multi-disciplinary it is, requiring knowledge in a number of key areas, including the science and technology of robot motion-planning and control; sensing and perception; and artificial intelligence."

In this sentence, the items being listed are: 1) the science and technology of robot motion-planning and control 2) sensing and perception 3) artificial intelligence

Each item is part of the same area of study; hence the pairing of multiple subjects with 'and' in items (1) and (2). If commas are used to separate the items, it's hard to tell whether any given 'and' is ending the list of items, of if it is part of a single item. So I think semi-colons should be used. Is this correct?

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Yes, you're right. This needs to be a semicolon to act as something of a super-comma. –  tchrist Mar 22 '13 at 15:53
    
There comes a point where it's futile deciding on 'correct proper formatting' when correct arguably-improper formatting is so much clearer. Why not: "In my exposure to this field so far, I have come to appreciate just how multi-disciplinary it is, requiring knowledge in a number of key areas, including: 1) the science and technology of robot motion-planning and control 2) sensing and perception 3) artificial intelligence ? (Sorry I can't align here.) –  Edwin Ashworth Mar 22 '13 at 16:16
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2 Answers

With commas instead of semicolons, it would not be clear that item 2, sensing and perception, is not a subsection of science and technology of robots or not a continuation of the motion-planning and control list. As it happens, that is not made clear with semicolons either; here is a possible interpretation of the original version:

...requiring knowledge in a number of key robotics science and technology areas, including robotics motion-planning and control; robotic sensing and perception; and robotic artificial intelligence.

By changing the order of the list you can avoid that problem:

...requiring knowledge in a number of key areas, including artificial intelligence, sensing and perception, and robot motion-planning and control.

Note, I shortened “science and technology of robot motion-planning and control” to “robot motion-planning and control”.

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Edwin Ashworth's version is good. I would alter it slightly as follows:

"In my exposure to this field so far, I have come to appreciate just how multi-disciplinary it is, requiring knowledge in three key areas of scientific technology: 1) robot motion-planning and control; 2) sensing and perception; and 3) artificial intelligence."

Notice, I conflated jwpat7's version with Mr. Ashworth's version but kept the words science and technology, as well as the numbering, which can often make what is written or spoken more memorable for your readers or auditors. Number of words for jwpat7's and mine, 37; for Ashcroft's, 41.

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