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Is there a better way of structuring the following?

In the first instance, efficiency needs to be evaluated; the most efficient choice, that is, the choice that minimises unnecessary requirements, is the preferred outcome.

I often use the phrase 'that is' but I've become increasingly aware that I may not be using it correctly. When writing, I sometimes feel I use too many commas. Would removing the comma after 'that is' be more appropriate?

EDIT

In light of the answers, it would seem that the question reduces to personal choice of offsetting a parenthetical clause when using 'that is'. My choice of using commas would not be to everybody's taste, especially given a sentence with as many commas as this example.

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    I see nothing inappropriate about your use of commas here. I would have punctuated in the exact same way, or perhaps set off the parenthetical clause in dashes instead, if you feel there is a bit of comma overload: “the most efficient choice—that is, the choice that minimises unnecessary requirements—is the preferred outcome”. I would never remove the comma after that is: that would change the meaning. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 15 '14 at 9:19
  • That's a useful alternative, I'll bear that in mind. Perhaps I'm being a little too cautious with my commas. – oLas May 15 '14 at 9:22
  • Commas tend to be 'overused' in the sense that so many are used that they begin to hinder rather than help parsing and prosody. They're just so useful! You obviously need the comma after that is here to mark the ie usage (as opposed to a defining that-clause); using dashes to mark the explanatory parenthetical is a little more dramatic than commas, but I'd say is the lesser of two smallish evils here. – Edwin Ashworth May 15 '14 at 9:30
  • There is too much comma-related anxiety going on around. Just use it as comfortably as you feel you should. Just he thankful it's not colon-related. – Blessed Geek May 15 '14 at 9:44
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I agree with Janus BJ's comments above. You can also use the Latin abbreviation i.e.:

In the first instance, efficiency needs to be evaluated; the most efficient choice, i.e. the choice that minimises unnecessary requirements, is the preferred outcome.

Note that some style guides specify a comma after the "i.e.", on the grounds that this is in accord with the actual meaning of the Latin id est (which means "that is"). The ostensible logic for this is that because one would follow the English that is with a comma, it is also necessary to use one with i.e.

This seems incredibly pedantic to me (because it resolves no ambiguity), as well as intruding an unnecessary pause in the flow of the sentence. So I make no apologies for not using one. :-)

  • “Intruding an unnecessary pause in the flow of the sentence”? If I speak the sentence out loud, whether I say ‘that is’ or simply pronounce it ‘i e’, I would definitely have a pause after it. I don’t find the pause unnecessary at all. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 15 '14 at 9:42
  • It seems that the question has come down to a personal choice of offsetting a parenthetical clause using 'that is' or 'i.e.'. Given my rephrasing of the above question, could we combine @JanusBahsJacquet and Erik's answers to summarise the options? – oLas May 15 '14 at 11:53
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    @oLas - So you're suggesting we should simply apply some comma sense? – Erik Kowal May 15 '14 at 20:08
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The commas aren't a problem per se: it's just that the sentence has a lot of short sections, and it's not immediately clear how they relate to each other. You say you often overuse commas, and I suspect it's a result of trying to cram too much into each sentence: I used to have a similar problem, so I recognise the symptoms.

In general, I'd advise writing shorter sentences. Where you would normally use a semicolon or colon, break the sentence there instead. Then, when you come to a situation like this one, replace commas with punctuation that shows the relationship of the different parts of the sentence.

To take this particular example:-

In the first instance, efficiency needs to be evaluated. The most efficient choice (that is, the choice that minimises unnecessary requirements) is the preferred outcome.

(As mentioned in the comments, you can use parenthetical dashes instead, and that's really a question of personal preference.)

You might even like to think about the rule of having one thought per sentence. Short sentences like the following aren't always appropriate to the tone or expected style, but they can help marshal your thoughts.

In the first instance, efficiency needs to be evaluated. The most efficient choice is the preferred outcome. That is the choice that minimises unnecessary requirements.

Looking at this one-thought-per-sentence version shows us another way to write the idea: a way that doesn't look like a children's book.

In the first instance, efficiency needs to be evaluated. The preferred outcome is the most efficient choice: that is, the choice that minimises unnecessary requirements.

Here, I've swapped the order of your main point, which might not fit the context so well, but you can see how it works in other cases.

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