When you’re listing a series of complicated items, be sure to maintain parallel grammatical structure. Your readers will find it easier to follow, and your writing will have a better flow. Here are two examples:
• They put on their swimsuits, towels, sunscreen was applied, off came their flip-flops and we saw them jump into the water. This becomes helter-skelter after the first comma. Did they put on towels? The sunscreen phrase is in passive voice while the rest is in active voice. And in the last phrase we suddenly find ourselves watching them. Here’s a better version:
• We put on our swimsuits, slathered on sunscreen, grabbed our towels, kicked off our flip-flops and ran into the water. The subject is We and the verbs follow logically and grammatically: put on, slathered on, grabbed, kicked off and ran.
In the next examples, we start with a real mouthful:
• We had a wonderful meal: Mrs. Gomez made us a tomato salad, there were shrimp, served cold, baked chicken breasts as the main course, Sally’s green bean recipe is always tasty, pasta that surprises you, because it has an unexpectedly peppery taste, Ed’s watermelon, as he promised, ice cream with made-from-scratch chocolate sauce and finally Miss Olson’s fresh-brewed coffee. Grammatically speaking, this is distasteful. One solution is to mix in a few semicolons and clean up the tenses and persons:
• We had a wonderful meal: a tomato salad from Mrs. Gomez; shrimp, served cold; baked chicken breasts as the main course; Sally’s green bean recipe, always tasty; pasta with a surprisingly peppery taste; Ed’s watermelon, as promised; ice cream with made-from-scratch chocolate sauce; and Miss Olson’s fresh-brewed coffee. Better yet, simplify:
• It was a wonderful meal: tomato salad, cold shrimp, baked chicken, tasty green beans, peppery pasta, watermelon, ice cream with homemade chocolate sauce and fresh-brewed coffee. If it’s OK to cut out that many details, it’s always easier to grasp a simple series separated by commas.