In this column, Vista provides practical tips to help you write clearly and concisely, including best practices for using Microsoft Word. Please leave suggestions for future posts in the comments. Subscribe now to make sure you don’t miss a tip!
When you write, choosing your words carefully is important, but how you arrange those words can also clarify or muddle what you say. “Parallelism” is the practice of using the same pattern of words to show that two or more ideas have the same importance. Because people recognize repetition even when we aren’t looking for it, parallelism helps us to understand rankings and comparisons. It’s an important part of writing clearly.
To figure out what parallelism looks like, let’s consider the following list, which is not parallel.
Your new duties include:
- Completing reports
- Review of projects
- Specification design
You might notice that reading this list is a little bit jarring, and if you read it out loud, it doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue. The reason the list doesn’t flow very well is that each item on it has a slightly different word pattern. If the word patterns were completely parallel, the list would look like this:
- Completing reports
- Reviewing projects
- Designing specifications
How do I use parallel patterns?
To make these items follow the same pattern as they do in the example above, you need to consider the arrangement and form of each word. In the parallel list, all the words indicating an action go first (completing, reviewing, designing) and the words identifying the object of the action go second (reports, projects, specifications). You also need to change the form of a few of the words (“review of” becomes “reviewing”, “design” becomes “designing”) to create a consistent pattern.
For a more in-depth look at the grammar of parallelism, read this post.
How does it help?
What are the benefits of using intentional patterns in your writing? Parallel structures read more smoothly, and visible and audible patterns signal to your reader that items should be considered together and treated equally. In other words, parallelism clarifies your meaning!