WHAT is ‘parallel structure’ ?!

by | Nov 1, 2017

OK. You’ve received a digital hand slap from your online English instructor, or the teacher at your school ‘bled all over’ your report in red ink.

The comment was something about needing ‘parallel structure’ on your lists.

What in the world is parallel structure ?

It’s a fancy way to say the structure of those lists must ‘match.’

Check out this example of parallel structure. It’s from a lesson I taught on ‘filler words’ we don’t need in our documents (‘actually,’ ‘that,’ ‘so,’ etc.):

Here are some reasons to stay away from ‘filler words.’ They:

• Cost us money during proofreading.
• Make us look unprofessional.
• ‘Clog up’ email messages.

Note:  ‘They:’ sits above the list, instead of repeating with each bullet. I said ‘they’ only one time.

We’ll discuss that, later.

Here’s where ‘parallel’ comes in

Here are some reasons to stay away from ‘filler words.’ They:

Cost us money during proofreading.
Make us look unprofessional.
‘Clog up’ email messages.

The first word in each bullet item is parallel with the other two. All three are root words.

‘[They] cost,’  ‘[They] make,’ ‘[They] clog

 

These would also have been in parallel with each other if I’d written them all a little differently … with ‘-ing,’ for example:

Here are some reasons to stay away from ‘filler words.’ They are:

Costing us money during proofreading.
Making us look unprofessional.
‘Clogging up’ email messages.

You see, there are different ways to make your lists parallel. Just make sure to follow through the entire list.

An added note

Did you catch the periods at the ends of the bulleted list items? That’s because the ‘full read’ makes complete sentences of each item (once you add the word ‘they’).

Without a list, the original statements in this post would have been:

“Here are some reasons to stay away from ‘filler words.’
They cost us money during proofreading.
They make us look unprofessional.
They ‘clog up’ email messages.”

Yawn! There’s some boring reading, right?

This demonstrates how using parallel lists not only eliminates the overuse of words (in this case, ‘they’ and ‘us’), but lists are appealing to the eye. We can read them quickly, they break up the text, and they make it easier to read.


Your Takeaway: It may take a little extra time, but keeping lists ‘in parallel’ makes our written materials grammatically correct and easier to read.

Final Note: I know this concept is confusing, but I get this question a lot. I thought I’d tackle it, here. Feel free to contact me if you need help. I’ll take a look at a list – no charge – and advise on its format.

Sharing is caring!

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Kathie York, CSQE
Lead Writer

Blog Archive

Blog Categories

Contact Kathie

How can I support your tech or text project?

Let's chat for a few minutes.
No invoice.