The Strength of Parallelism

Posted: January 6th, 2014, 2:56 pm   By: brittany.corners

Maintaining parallel structures in words, phrases, sentences, paragraph subheadings, how-to steps and bullet points greatly improves the readability of what you write. In addition, it places the same level of importance on each word or phrase. When ideas or items are similar, using parallelism reinforces the similarities you convey through your words.

Words

Words used for items in a series or for paired items must take the same form to keep parallelism intact. This means if adverbs are used for the first two items of a series, one must also appear in the last item in the series. Likewise, paired items and items following a colon should also take the same form. Consider these examples:

Incorrect: If you love hiking, camping or to bike outdoors, these jackets are for you.

Correct: If you love hiking, camping or biking outdoors, these jackets are for you.

Incorrect: These nightlights not only make it easy to see in the dark, but they also make it a breeze finding your way in unfamiliar surroundings.

Correct: These nightlights not only make it easy to see in the dark, but they also make it easy to navigate in unfamiliar surroundings.

Phrases and sentences

Any parallel structure that starts with a phrase must maintain the use of phrases throughout the entire sentence. This includes maintaining the same voice by not switching from a passive voice to an active one, or vice versa.

Incorrect: Whether you love to perform solos for an imaginary audience, sing sonatas to your significant other or you have spent time belting out your favorite tunes to your friends and family, karaoke machines are a great way to practice your singing.

Correct: Whether you love to perform solos for an imaginary audience, sing sonatas to your significant other or belt out your favorite tunes to your friends and family, karaoke machines are a great way to practice your singing.

Likewise, sentences with a balanced structure that embraces parallelism create symmetry that only adds strength to the words you write.

Incorrect: Consider a red crocodile skin wallet, or add a wallet made of leather in the color of black.

Correct: Consider a red crocodile skin wallet, or add a black leather wallet.

Paragraph subheadings, how-to steps and bullet points

Just like with words, phrases and sentences, paragraph subheadings, how-to steps and bullet points are strengthened when they take the same form. Start all with the same parts of speech or types of phrasing to ensure the best flow. The paragraph subheadings in this post all start with nouns. Consider these examples for how-to steps and bullet points:

Incorrect: (How to)

  1. Write parallel structures
  2. Proofread for errors
  3. Fixing errors

Correct: (How to)

  1. Write parallel structures
  2. Proofread for errors
  3. Fix errors

Incorrect: (bullets)

  • Words
  • Phrases
  • Structuring sentences

Correct: (bullets)

  • Words
  • Phrases
  • Sentences

Tips for proofreading

While you are writing or editing, there are a few things you can do to proofread to check for parallelism. Try these tips:

Tip #1: Skim your writing piece for the words “and” and “or,” and make sure any items or phrases in a series take the same form by looking at the words on both sides of the conjunction. Correct anything that is not parallel.

Tip#2: For items in a list, you can create a temporary column to ensure the list starts with the same part of speech.

Tip#3: Read your writing out loud. If you notice rhythms or sounds created by words that are similar, such as words ending in “ing,” “ly” or “ed,” make sure the rhythm or pattern of sounds is maintained as long as it is needed. If it is in a spot that requires parallelism, edit to make any corrections.

Making sure parallelism is a part of what you write enhances your writing. Sometimes, it can even work to clarify the meaning of something where parallelism uses adjectives to specify the type of something that may take alternate forms. Stick to using the same forms of speech in the same voice for words, phrases and sentences as well as paragraph subheadings, how-to steps and bullet points to maximize the effect your words have on your readers.