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I have the following sentence in a technical paper:

Recent research has addressed this issue in two important ways: by developing and improving on automatic algorithms and by exploring human-guided systems.

Though I think this is grammatically correct, it seems like it would sound better with the addition of a comma:

Recent research has addressed this issue in two important ways: by developing and improving on automatic algorithms, and by exploring human-guided systems.

I'm by no means an expert on the English language, but I think I have seen commas like this before in decently respectable pieces of writing.

But is it technically okay to add one here? From what I remember, they belong after a conjunction that is followed by an independent clause--not a conjunction followed by a dependent clause as I have above. (?)

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    It is much worse with the comma there. If you read it out loud, you'll find you can't pause there -- the meaning is lost. The end of the sentence becomes baffling -- By exploring human-guided systems ... what? Nothing? – David Schwartz Jan 21 '14 at 17:13
  • Interesting! I guess we all read things aloud differently. :-) – nicole Jan 21 '14 at 17:29
  • @nicole It sounds to me as if you are trying to get 2 to equal 1+1+1. What about the following: Recent research has addressed this issue in three ways, by developing automatic algorithms, by improving them, and exploring human-guided systems. I admit I don't have a good feel for what you are writing about, so if I'm making things worse here, let me know and I'll delete this comment. One further thought "this issue" could be made more concrete is you could further describe the "issue" with a adjective or participle. – Michael Owen Sartin Jan 21 '14 at 18:09
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With a pause after "algorithms", the two ways must be "developing" and "improving on". That leaves "by exploring human-guided systems" floating on its own and the end of the sentence is baffling. By exploring human-guided systems ... what?

You can say this (notice that the pause before "and" is essential):

Recent research has addressed this issue in two important ways: by developing and improving on automatic algorithms, and by exploring human-guided systems some other thing happens.

Or you can say this:

Recent research has addressed this issue in two important ways: by developing and improving on automatic algorithms and by exploring human-guided systems.

But this is just incomprehensible:

Recent research has addressed this issue in two important ways: by developing and improving on automatic algorithms, and by exploring human-guided systems.

The sentence just ends in mid thought.

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I disagree with David Schwartz that the comma renders the sentence incomprehensible, and indeed I prefer it that way. However, I take the point that it might be possible for some readers to stumble over the “developing and improving” and read it as two things.

I see two ways to fix this. You could definitively number the two improvements:

Recent research has addressed this issue in two important ways: first, by developing and improving on automatic algorithms; and second, by exploring human-guided systems.

Alternately, you could remove the ambiguity about whether the clause about automatic algorithms addresses one way or two ways:

Recent research has addressed this issue in two important ways: by improving on automatic algorithms, and by exploring human-guided systems.

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