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I have the following sentence in my technical manual about naming files:

Punctuation marks other than hyphens, spaces around punctuation marks that are replaced by underscores, and spaces between initials are removed.

As you may see, there are two ways to read it:

(1) Punctuation marks other than hyphens, (2) spaces around punctuation marks that are replaced by underscores, (3) and spaces between initials are removed. (This is what I actually mean.)

Punctuation marks other than (1) hyphens, (2) spaces around punctuation marks that are replaced by underscores, (3) and spaces between initials are removed. (Wrong.)

How can I remove this ambiguity and show that only the first version is correct without using numbers?

I can replace commas with semicolons, but I don't think it really solves the problem.

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  • 1
    This cries out for an illustrative example.
    – Xanne
    Dec 19 '20 at 11:59
  • I have the feeling this isn't going to end well, technically or grammatically.
    – Phil Sweet
    Dec 19 '20 at 12:12
  • @KannE Thanks. Nice catch you see the instructions themselves are somewhat weird. This is because what I posted here is actually differs from what I have in the real document. The real passage is "Punctuation marks other than hyphens and compounders, spaces around punctuation marks that are replaced by compounders, and spaces between initials are removed." And what the compounders are is a completely different story :)
    – jsv
    Dec 19 '20 at 14:53
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    You can't avoid attachment ambiguity with three in one. To be unambiguous, split it up. Punctuation marks other than hyphens are removed. In addition, spaces around punctuation marks that are replaced by underscores, and spaces between initials are also removed. It's shortening things that makes ambiguity flourish. You don't have to get everything into one sentence. Dec 19 '20 at 18:25
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    @JohnLawler I like your recommendation a lot. Thanks.
    – jsv
    Dec 20 '20 at 2:55
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You might want to add as well as or but also before "spaces":

Punctuation marks other than hyphens, as well as spaces around punctuation marks that are replaced by underscores, and spaces between initials are removed.

or

Punctuation marks other than hyphens, but also spaces around punctuation marks that are replaced by underscores, and spaces between initials are removed.

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  • Interesting. I will probably accept it. (Anyway, I cannot accept it right now due to 5-minutes limit.) Isn't it better to remove the comma before "and" in your versions?
    – jsv
    Dec 19 '20 at 10:10
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    I think you'd better leave the commas in, so as to avoid another confusion: "and" does not link "underscores" and "spaces"!
    – fev
    Dec 19 '20 at 10:13

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