Parallel Structure: Patterns Are Pleasing

Our brains are wired to look for patterns, so you can use parallel structure in your sentences to make your writing more memorable. 

Mignon Fogarty
3-minute read
Episode #463
parallel structure

Articles such as “a” and “the” can also throw off parallelism. They should come before only the first item in a series or before all items in a series:

For her birthday, we gave Ashley an iPhone, a make-up kit, and a Facebook account of her own.

For her birthday, we gave Ashley an iPhone, make-up kit, and Facebook account of her own.

Parallelism—or lack of it—becomes even more obvious when you have items in a bulleted list. Consider this example:

When you close the store for the night

  • The doors should be locked
  • Empty the till
  • Next, in the log book, record the money
  • Alarm: Set it.

None of the bulleted items use the same structure, and the list is hard to read. You can improve the instructions by giving more detail in the introductory sentence and making each bullet use the same structure:

When you close the store for the night, take these steps in the following order:

  • Lock the doors.
  • Empty the till.
  • Record the amount of money from the till in the log book.
  • Set the alarm.

Lack of parallelism is not only a common style error in prose, it’s also one of the more common errors in resumes, so remembering to check your parallelism can help you get ahead in your current job—or find a new one.

This article originally appeared in Office Pro magazine.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show.

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