Monday, January 23, 2012
When writing something formal that others will read, it’s important to consider parallelism. Parallelism involves the use of similar structures in sentences with multiple clauses or lists. The best way to explain is to show some examples.
Not parallel: I follow directions and studying hard.
Parallel: I follow directions and study hard.
Parallel: I am good at following directions and studying hard.
Parallel: He likes to follow directions and to study hard.
Not parallel: This class requires a midterm project, a presentation and students take a final exam.
Parallel: This class requires a midterm project, a presentation and a final exam.
Not parallel: During the conference we heard lectures, met with colleagues and lunch was served.
Parallel: During the conference, we heard lectures, met with colleagues and enjoyed a catered lunch. (active)
Parallel: During the conference, lectures were delivered, colleagues were introduced and lunch was served. (passive)
All of these sentences are comprehensible and the messages are easy for readers to understand. The difference is in the readers’ impression of the writer. Use of parallel sentence structure shows attention to detail whereas multiple parallelism errors give the impression of sloppiness or carelessness. Readers will also suspect that the writer is a non-native English writer if there are multiple non-parallel structures.
For more examples of parallelism, see Purdue OWL: Parallel Structures.