Conquer Confusion Using Parallel Patterns in Your Writing

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If you’re asking how you can improve as a writer and write more clearly, you’re asking yourself the right questions. Parallelism is just one possible answer.

The best writers use parallelism. This practice can do wonders for writing quality and reading comprehension—no matter the topic or type of writing. The best part? It’s surprisingly easy to do.

What is parallelism in writing? What can it do for your writing, and how should you use it? Keep reading and find out.

What Is Parallelism in Writing?

Parallelism is defined as the practice of combining two or more similar ideas into one cohesive sentence.  Words and clauses of equal value or importance are joined using a like grammatical structure in a parallel construction.

It is the practice of arranging ideas to form patterns and make logical connections in fewer words. This results in smoother reading and enables you as a writer to easily and efficiently clarify meaning for your audience.

Here’s an example of a sentence with and without parallelism.

           Without parallel structure:

           What is parallelism in writing, and what is parallelism not?

This sentence is a bit clunky to read, but not technically incorrect.

           With parallel structure:

            What is parallelism in writing, and what is it not?

See how much better that reads? In this sentence, “parallelism” has been replaced with “it” to avoid awkward redundancy. “Parallelism” is the object of the sentence and can be replaced with the pronoun “it” because this word also functions as the object of the sentence.

Here’s another version.

             Without parallel structure:

We are going to look at the client’s assembly operations, and we are going to offer a solution to cut costs and time.

            With parallel structure:

We are going to look at the client’s assembly operations and offer a solution to cut costs and time.

This time, the sentence has been improved by allowing both phrases to share the same clause “we are going to.”

When a group of sentences or ideas all contain one or more of the same parts of speech—nouns, verbs, adjectives, and so on, these can be listed. Lists are a common use of parallelism.

Consider an example from our site, a list of services and products we offer:

  • Multi-discipline engineering teams
  • Decisions based on accurate and verifiable data
  • Simplified digital transformation of your assets

When you use parallel construction to list multiple items, make sure that like items are in complete agreement. Each idea should follow the same grammatical roadmap. With this in mind, here is the list above in a grammatically correct parallel sentence.

Here at Vista Projects, we promise multi-discipline engineering teams, decisions based on accurate and verifiable data, and simplified digital transformation of your assets.


What’s the Point?

There can be many benefits to using parallelism in your writing. The most important of these is that it enhances clarity.

When you use parallel construction, your sentence structure is more varied for better flow, and your writing is more direct for better reader comprehension. Using parallelism correctly results in writing that is balanced and coherent.

When you fail to use parallel construction where it should be used, your writing will likely be riddled with redundancies and very awkward to read.

How Do I Use Parallel Patterns?

Using parallel patterns is simple.

In many cases, parallel constructions are easier to write than nonparallel construction. That is because parallelism sounds very natural, often more like speech that non-parallelism.

To use parallel patterns, begin with the ideas you’d like to join and decide what they have in common.

Every part of speech that you have determined to be parallel should match, and the clauses you are joining should be grammatically identical. For example, you wouldn’t say, “My dog has brown fur, and my dog’s fur also has white spots,” because that switches the subject from dog to fur.

You can create a parallel structure by connecting two clauses with a coordinating conjunction first. Then, take away one common word at a time until all that is left is one symmetrical sentence.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Though parallel constructions are easy to use, there are a few things that can go wrong. When this happens, it is called faulty parallelism.

To ensure that you have parallel grammatical construction in your writing, watch out for these common mistakes:

  • Disagreement in tense between verbs
  • Sentence fragments
  • Missing conjunctions

The most common mistake when attempting parallelism is a failure to put verbs in agreement with each other.

This can be seen in a sentence like, “I would rather write than editing.” In this example, “write” is an action in the present tense, and “editing” is an action in the present progressive tense. The two are not grammatically alike.

Luckily, parallel sentences that contain grammatical structure errors are easy to catch. When you’ve begun the technical editing process, read your work aloud. It is a surefire way to make errors pop out. You will stumble on your words and experience difficulty reading writing that lacks parallelism. It will sound weird no matter how many times you read it.

What is parallelism in writing, then? Parallelism is the practice of joining semantically similar ideas into one sentence containing patterns in grammatical structure. Parallel construction, when used correctly, can make your writing much easier to read, concise, and more effective overall.

Check out more technical writing tips in our resources section.

Vista Projects is an integrated engineering services firm able to assist with your pipeline projects. With offices in Calgary, Alberta, Houston, Texas and Muscat, Oman, we help clients with customized system integration and engineering consulting across all core disciplines.

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