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I found a difficulty to determine the scope of modifiers in long sentences. To make it clearer, see the following sentences. My translation may be wrong.

Sentence 1

新しい工場を建てるに当たって(は)、環境への影響などを調べ、地域の人々と話し合う機会を持つ必要がある。

Prior to building a new factory, it is necessary to have an opportunity to

  • investigate things like its effect on environment, and

  • speak with the people in that region.

Here I assume that 環境への影響などを調べ、地域の人々と話し合う is the modifier of 機会.

Sentence 2

進学に当たって(は)、学校を見学したり、先輩に話を聞いたり、先生に相談したりして、できるだけ選択肢を広げて考えることが重要だ。

Prior to entering a higher school, the necessary things are

  • to do things like observing the school, listening to stories from seniors, discussing with teachers,

  • to widen the alternatives as much as possible, and

  • to think.

Here I assume that 学校を見学したり、先輩に話を聞いたり、先生に相談したりして、できるだけ選択肢を広げて考える is the modifier of こと.

Questions

How to determine the scope of modifiers in long sentences?

  • If we parse 調べ as conjunctive て, a restatement of the question is "which verb or copula is 調べ acting conjunctively with?" (Personally, the comma feels like it is pushing away from 話し合う, ある doesn't feel right, and 持つ seems to make sense from context, so I'm leaning towards 持つ, which implies your first interpretation... but I'm very much looking forward to seeing which one more experienced readers pick!) – WeirdlyCheezy Jun 11 '16 at 12:29
2

As for Sentence 1, there are two possible ways to parse this sentence.

  • 「環境への影響などを調べ、地域の人々と話し合う」 as a whole modifies 機会, as you guessed.
  • First 「環境への影響などを調べ」, and then, 「地域の人々と話し合う機会を持つ」. That is, 機会 is modified only by 「地域の人々と話し合う」.

But whichever way you read it, it doesn't considerably change the meaning.

Sentence 2 is more complicated, because there is one more nesting. Read this sentence like this:

Prior to entering a higher school,
{
    thinking while/after widening your choices as much as possible, ← BY {
        - observing the school
        - listening to stories from seniors
        - discussing with teachers
    }
} is important.

Do you remember the "歩いて学校に行く" pattern I mentioned before? (歩いて describes how you 学校に行く.) Here, the 「~たり~たり~たりして」 part describes how you 「できるだけ選択肢を広げて考える」. And the 「できるだけ選択肢を広げて」 part describes how you 「考える」. And as you said, 「~たり~たり~たりしてできるだけ選択肢を広げて考える」 modifies こと.

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to parse long sentences. It's often impossible to parse them without your common sense and background knowledge, and more importantly, practice.

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