You don’t have to be a professional writer to write well. I truly believe that anyone can learn to write better with just a little bit of effort. This means revisiting some of the subject matter you covered in your high school English class, like today’s topic of parallel structure. I know what you’re thinking: yawn. But lack of parallel structure is a very common mistake that I see, so pour yourself a cup of coffee and read on. I’ll try to make it interesting.
What is parallel structure?
Parallel structure is simply a writing rule that helps you make the relationship between a group of similar things or ideas clear to your reader. It’s also called parallelism or parallel construction.
When would I use it?
Parallel structure is useful any time you want to include a list of ideas, items, or actions in your writing. One really good example of using parallel structure in everyday life is resume writing. For example, take a look at this list of job duties:
- Managed mischief across multiple departments in the organization
- Created and implemented a cleaning schedule for break room microwave
- Worked to ensure department coffee pot was always full
Notice how all of verbs end with -ed? That’s parallel structure. All of the verbs are in the same tense, which makes this list easy to read and understand.
- I help manage mischief across multiple departments in the organization
- Created a cleaning schedule for break room microwave
- Ensures department coffee pot is always full
A lack of parallel structure here makes this list difficult to read. The items on the list just don’t flow together and as a result, the reader is perplexed.
Here’s another example:
She rinses the filter, filled it with coffee grounds, adds water, and turned on the coffee pot.
Are you confused? You should be. This crazed coffee brewer is doing some of the work to make coffee right now in the present time and already did some of it in a past time. Don’t drink any of that.
She rinses the filter, fills it with coffee grounds, adds water, and turns on the coffee pot.
Much better. This pot will be delicious.
Another common mistake happens when you use an article or preposition inconsistently in a series:
The drive-in restaurant is open in spring, summer, and in fall.
To keep your list in parallel structure, you need to use the article or preposition either before the first item only, or repeat it before each item:
The drive-in restaurant is open in spring, summer, and fall.
The drive-in restaurant is open in spring, in summer, and in fall.
Why does parallel structure matter?
Parallel structure helps your reader easily understand the relationship between a group of items or thoughts in your writing. By making sure that the items you are grouping—nouns, phrases, gerunds, verbs—are all being used in the same way, you’ll make it easier for your reader to understand your writing. Strong communication skills are an asset in every job, and time spent improving your writing will inevitably make you look better in the eyes of your coworkers, superiors, and customers.