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    Running a Parallel Course

    Thursday, November 05, 2009

    Unparallel construction is a very common stylistic error that is relatively easy to correct. To create parallelism in a sentence, use similar grammatical structures - words, phrases, clauses - to express thoughts that have a similar function. Parallel structure helps your reader to make sense of things. Here are a couple of instances where you should watch for parallel construction.

    Use parallel construction for similar items within a sentence. For example, in the sentence Ankur's job includes filing, to fax, and expense accounts, the three job duties are expressed in three different ways. It's an awkward read. You can check for parallel construction by considering each list item separately. Taking our example sentence apart, we have this first thought: Ankur's job includes filing. That works. Next we have Ankur's job includes to fax. That does not work, nor is it grammatically correct. Finally, we have Ankur's job includes expense accounts. Again, the item is structurally different from the first, making the whole sentence difficult to understand. But notice how clear the three ideas become when they are presented in a parallel way: Ankur's job includes filing, faxing, and tracking expenses.

    Use the same style for items in headings and lists. Agendas and documents containing section headings and bulleted lists ought to be constructed in a parallel way. Take time to ensure that each item is written in a consistent, grammatical form. For example, a list of goals may present each item beginning with an adjective - lower prices; fewer accidents; happier workers - or beginning with a verb - reduce prices; decrease accidents; improve morale. It doesn't matter which form you use, as long as you use it consistently for all the headings or throughout a list.

    Helpful Hint: Read your sentences out loud to check for parallel construction. Often your ear will tell you more than your eye will.

    You can learn more about parallel construction on page 264 in Write for Business: A Compact Guide to Writing and Communicating in the Workplace, just one of the many helpful business writing resources from UpWrite Press.

    - Joyce Lee

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