Write for Business - Blog

UpWrite Press understands the importance of writing skills in business: We're business people just like you. On this blog you'll find tips to improve your writing, along with topics of interest to our staff.

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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

    Podcast

    Sentences on the Runway

    Wednesday, November 04, 2009

    If sentences were in a fashion show, here's what you might see: Some sentences might appear perky and preppie and ready for action, others might flow on and on in exotic layers of meaning, still others might hit you right between the eyes with their boldness or sneak up on you because of their understated elements.

    The Modeling Process
    To improve your own sentence-writing skills, try imitating sentences that seem especially fashionable or well made. This process is sometimes called modeling. Here's how to get started:

    • Keep a list of well-made sentences that you come across in your reading. To work on your business writing, you may want to focus on sentences from nonfiction articles and texts.
    • Analyze each sentence so you know how it is put together (dare I say, "attired"). Read it out loud. Notice word endings (-ing, -ed, etc.), pay attention to the use of prepositions (to, by, over, etc.) and articles (a, an the), and look for parts set off by commas.
    • Then write your own versions of these sentences by mimicking them part by part. Try to use the same word endings, prepositions, and articles, but supply your own nouns and verbs. (Your imitation does not have to be exact.)
    • Set aside specific times each week to practice sentence modeling, perhaps during a couple of morning or afternoon breaks. The more you practice, the more your own sentences will be in style.

    Modeling in Action
    Here's a short well-made sentence from The Headmaster by John McPhee. (The two "no phrases" give the sentence a pleasing rhythm.)

    "He had no plan and no theory, but he proved himself to be an educator by intuition."

    Now here's my close, but not exact imitation:

    She's had limited time and limited resources, yet she's forced herself to become a leader by pure stubbornness.

    This next sentence comes from Words Fail Me by Patricia T. O'Conner. (The information after the comma adds an interesting layer of meaning.)

    "The fearful writer pictures the audience as a panel of Olympic judges, all holding up cards with 3's and 4's instead of 10's.

    And here's my imitation:

    The confident chef imagines diners as a table of eager gourmands, all savoring each dish with oohs and ahs instead of ughs.

    Now You Try
    Consider practicing the modeling process with any or all of the following well-made sentences. (They get progressively more challenging.) Be sure to share your results with a colleague.

    1. "The town sits there crazily, half on the green hills and half on the delta."
          - from Good Old Boy by Willie Morris
    2. "Different nurses bring in newborns, one after another, and line them down the counter to the sink's left."
          - from For the Time Being by Annie Dillard
    3. "It was in fact the tiniest of country villages, containing probably no more than 350 inhabitants, and it has grown no larger to this day."
          - from America by Bruce Catton

    A Final Thought: Sentence modeling is one activity among many that will help you improve your writing skills. It specifically makes you aware of the structures of stylistic sentences - structures that might make their way into your own writing, business or otherwise.